As an avid observer of energy landscapes, I find myself drawn to the exemplary strides made by Sarawak in the realm of energy management. The story of Sarawak’s success is not just about generating power but a saga of strategic planning, regulatory refinement, and a commitment to sustainable practices. Sabah, a region with its own unique energy challenges, could glean valuable insights from the journey of Sarawak Energy Berhad.

One glaring lesson is the establishment of a dedicated ministry. The meticulous development of the State Electricity Regulation in Sarawak showcases the importance of a well-defined regulatory framework. The establishment of the Ministry of Public Utilities in 2004 further reinforced the state’s commitment to effective regulation.

A noteworthy milestone is the creation of the Electrical Inspectorate Unit under the Ministry, empowered to regulate the electricity supply industry. This institutionalization of oversight through the Electricity (State Grid Code) Rules in 2003 has been instrumental in ensuring the stability and reliability of Sarawak’s power supply. Sabah, could benefit from establishing a similar dedicated regulatory body to enhance oversight and governance in the energy sector.

One of the most striking achievements of Sarawak lies in its adept integration of renewable energy sources. The state has become a beacon for sustainable energy practices, prominently featuring large-scale hydroelectric dams like Bakun Dam and Murum Dam. Sarawak’s success in diversifying its energy mix offers Sabah a blueprint for a more resilient and sustainable energy future.

Hydroelectric power has emerged as a cornerstone of Sarawak’s energy strategy, and Sabah can draw inspiration from this success. By harnessing the untapped potential of its rivers and embracing innovative technologies, Sabah can replicate Sarawak’s success in integrating renewable energy sources. This not only contributes to environmental sustainability but also enhances energy security by reducing dependence on conventional fossil fuels.

Moreover, the role of Sarawak Energy Berhad in spearheading the responsibility for delivering a stable and secure power supply system is a model worth emulating. The seamless implementation of electricity development and upgrade projects, driven by a clear mandate from the State Government, has been pivotal in meeting the needs of the people of Sarawak.

One might say that Sabah too is headed towards the same direction through the recent commissioning of the Upper Padas Dam in Tenom by our Prime Minister. This undoubtedly marks a positive stride towards reinforcing Sabah’s energy infrastructure, however, it is imperative to underscore a critical distinction between our energy landscape and that of Sarawak. While both regions may seem to be progressing in a similar direction, the ownership structure and governance models paint a different picture.

The Upper Padas Dam, a notable addition to Sabah’s energy portfolio, is owned by an Independent Power Producer (IPP), not SESB. In Sarawak, there is not a single Independent Power Producer, as Sarawak Energy Berhad owns and manages all power generation projects.

The absence of a dedicated ministry for utility matters in Sabah is another pivotal factor distinguishing us from Sarawak. For decades, Sabah’s electricity supply has fallen under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Climate Change (NRECC), previously known as the Ministry of Energy, Telecommunications and Posts. This arrangement has Sabah’s energy landscape remain entangled within the purview of the Federal Government, TNB, and the Energy Commission (ST), limiting its autonomy and decision-making capabilities in determining tariffs and energy resource management.

The question that naturally arises is, why does Sabah not emulate Sarawak’s footsteps? The blueprint for success in energy governance has been laid out by Sarawak, ripe for adaptation and application in Sabah. The benefits, particularly in energy generation reliability and sustainability, are palpable.

Is the prioritization of stable electricity not at the forefront of Sabah’s agenda? What justified reason could there possibly be that is hindering the adoption of a more autonomous energy governance system? These questions beg exploration as Sabah stands on the brink of significant changes in governance, potentially shifting energy governance to the state government.

Soon, Sabah will hold a special state assembly sitting on the 3rd of January next year to allow for the taking over of regulatory power of the state’s electricity supply. The impending transfer of governance to the state government presents a prime opportunity for Sabah to recalibrate its energy governance model. Emulating Sarawak’s electricity supply governance system stands as an imperative for Sabah’s progress in ensuring a more sustainable, reliable, and self-governed energy landscape.

The time for action is now. Sabah must seize the opportunity to learn from Sarawak’s successes, adapting its model to suit Sabah’s unique needs and challenges. By prioritizing the establishment of a dedicated energy ministry and consolidating ownership of power generation projects, Sabah can pave the way for a future where energy security and sustainability are not just aspirations but tangible realities. The transition in governance marks a pivotal moment—a chance for Sabah to script its own success story in energy management.

A special State Assembly sitting has been slated for 3 January, coming Wednesday, to pave the way for Sabah to take over regulatory power of the state’s electricity supply. I strongly felt that to meet the subsequent demands, hopes and challenges, coordination and cooperation from all are crucial so that all issues, particularly the legal process, can be resolved. Among the steps required were approval from the Federal Cabinet to invoke Article 95C of the Federal Constitution and delegate matters pertaining to electricity to the Sabah government by way of a gazette. And in doing so it also to suspended the implementation of Electricity Supply Act 1990 (Act 448), Renewable Energy Act 2011 (Act 725) and Sustainable Energy Development Authority Act 2011 (Act 726) in Sabah. Article 95C of the Federal Constitution was gazetted on 22 December 2023.

On the Sabah government’s part, two bills namely: the Electricity Supply Enactment and Renewable Energy Enactment, as well as an amendment to the Sabah Energy Commission Enactment 2023 (to include the regulatory function on electricity supply and renewable energy), will be tabled during the special State Assembly sitting.

This development is a historic moment in the electricity supply industry in Sabah. SESB, which has recorded various successes since last 25 years of privatisation, has high hopes that it will help improve the quality of electricity supply in Sabah, with the support and cooperation of various stakeholders. It is certain that Sarawak’s model of experience, as I have mentioned, will lead us to a more constructive paradigm shift.

Sabah Electricity Sdn. Bhd. Chairman
Member of Parliament for P170 Tuaran
Honorary President of UPKO