Badan Warisan Malaysia or the Malaysian Heritage Body, an NGO that promotes the preservation and conservation of Malaysia’s built heritage, paid a visit recently to the former Malim Nawar Power Station (MNPS). According to Puan Sri Datin Elizabeth Moggie, Council Member of Badan Warisan Malaysia, the NGO had forwarded their interest to TNB to visit MNPS to view TNB’s effort to conserve their older but significant stations for its heritage value.
“Any building or facility that had made a significant contribution to the development of the country should be preserved.” – Badan Warisan Malaysia
Moggie added that Badan Warisan was impressed that TNB had kept the buildings as is and practised adaptive reuse of the facility with the locating of ILSAS and REMACO, their training and maintenance facilities, at the former power station.
Moggie added that any building or facility that had made a significant contribution to the development of the country should be preserved for future generations to appreciate and that power generation did play a significant part in making the country what it is today.
The Malim Nawar Power Station began operations in 1928. It was owned and built by the Perak River and Hydro-electric Power Company and had an initial generating capacity of 18,000kW and supplied power to the surrounding tin mines, industry and people living within its concession area.
The facility at MNPS consisted of the Power Station and supporting workshops. It also had living quarters for all levels of its workers complete with a football field and convenience store. It is what we would now refer to as a gated community.
The station was the premium thermal power station till the 1960s when its supply was connected to the National Electricity Board’s (NEB, now called Tenaga Nasional Berhad or TNB) power grid after which it was gradually phased out and MNPS was closed in 1986.
Power for the People
The first location in the Federated Malay States (FMS) to receive electric supply was Kuala Lumpur. The next location was Ipoh because of its rich tin industry. While not even half the size of Kuala Lumpur, it nevertheless received large allocations of funds to improve its power supply. Although the demand for electric power was initially required for domestic lighting, it was the tin mines with its voracious appetite for power that spearheaded the push to set up a stable supply of power for its mining activities.
The initial power supply in Ipoh was supplied by Pengkalen Mines Ltd, a company operated by mining company Osborne and Chapel, which was generating power for its bucket dredges out of Lahat. Its excess supply was channeled to Ipoh by line, on dark chengal poles to Lahat Lane with sub stations at Hugh Low Street (Jalan Sultan Iskandar) and Cowan Street (Jalan Raja Ekram).
However, the goal of the then Government of the FMS was a long-term solution. Funding was an issue but the firm of Messrs Armstrong, Whitworth and Co had managed to arrange for that.
A preliminary agreement between Armstrong, Whitworth and Co and the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Iskandar Shah, on December 12, 1925 subsequently saw the setting up of Perak River Hydro-Electric Power Company (PRHEP), which was floated on the London market in July 1926. PRHEP was leased for 80 years whereby the FMS government would not have the option to take it over until the first fifty years had expired, that is, after 1975.
The scope of work, costing GBP3.5 million saw the construction of the hydro-electric power generation plant across the Perak River where it joined the small tributary, Sungai Chenderoh. Called the Chenderoh Dam, construction work started in March 1927 and was completed in June 1930. It was officially opened by the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Iskandar Shah and the British High Commissioner then, Sir Hugh Clifford.
Chenderoh Dam hydro power station had a 27,000kW hydro generating capacity and was linked to a steam-powered plant at Malim Nawar, 40km south, by a 66kVa transmission line. The purpose for Malim Nawar was three fold. Initially it would serve the consumers in Kinta while Chenderoh was being constructed. Subsequently it would act as a standby in case of breakdowns along the transmission lines and used as an auxiliary in times of drought at Chenderoh.
Work on Malim Nawar Steam Power Station (MNPS) began in 1927 and was commissioned a year later. MNPS carried power supply to 12 transformer sub-stations located throughout the Kinta Valley and provided mining consumers an uninterrupted power supply of variable capacities based on individual requirements throughout the year. Besides being a power station, Malim Nawar Station also had the capacity and capability to take on major repair jobs of the company’s electrical equipments.
In order to manage the distribution of power to domestic consumers and villages in the concession area, PRHEP created a subsidiary, Kinta Electric Distribution chaired by Colonel Cecil Rae and included a board consisting of Raja Chulan and Leong Sin Nam.
The office of PRHEP Company was located at Station Road, (Jalan Dato Maharajalela) currently a TNB branch office. In 1932, PRHEP purchased the Batu Gajah Power Station (BGPS) which was started earlier by the Malayan Tin Dredge Company for its own dredging operations. By 1935 after a financial restructuring, the company was free from debt and despite a downturn in the tin industry in 1937/38, paid out a healthy dividend of 7 cents in 1939. Indeed before WW2, PRHEP Company had the reputation of being “the largest hydro-electric project undertaken in the British Empire as well as being the single largest power producer in Southeast Asia”.
On a national level it contributed 55% of the total power produced in the Federation of Malaya. At state level its power supply grew from an initial coverage of 35 towns to over 60 towns and villages by the mid ‘50s.
PRHEP Powered the Tin Mines
The main methods of mining for tin in the Kinta Valley was open-cast mining and dredging, both of which used electricity for their operations.
It was noted that in 1952 there were 39 dredges in operation in the Valley mainly in the Kampar to Tanjung Tualang areas with hundreds more Chinese operated mines dotted throughout the Valley. The role of Perak Hydro was to provide uninterrupted and economical power supply to the mining companies. Its standard guideline was that a breakdown should not take longer than two hours to resume operations otherwise flooding would occur at the mine.
To ensure prompt service, Perak Hydro provided living quarters for its workers with ranks from engineer to technician. Their locations were at the power stations at Chenderoh, Malim Nawar and Batu Gajah and two district stations at Silibin, Ipoh and Kampar.
A visit to the stations at Chenderoh, Malim Nawar and Kampar revealed a pleasant gated community of houses clustered around a playing field. Retired employee S. Murugiah, who was a General Manager at Chenderoh Dam, said he grew up at the Batu Gajah Power Station as his father worked there. “Life there was very nice. I used to take food to my father at meal times. It was like one big family,” he said.
Former PRHEP employee, a District Inspector based at Kampar, Lee Yit Meng, 81, said that “besides selling power to the miners, PRHEP also rented them the motors for their operations”. “These days you could call it a package. In the event of a breakdown the motor would be replaced immediately,” said Lee adding that each station ensured that spare motors and transformers were available at all times.
Another former employee, engineer Adrian Boudville, 75, had earlier taken me on a tour of the Malim Nawar Power Station where he was based in the ‘50s. “MNPS” he explained, “was a steam-powered station which used fuel oil delivered by train from Teluk Intan every morning to generate the steam. Water was derived from a huge adjacent lake supplied with water from Sungai Dipang. The plant also had introduced draft induced cooling towers for cooling water from 100 degrees Fahrenheit.” “All in all the living and working environment at MNPS was similar to that of a self-contained township,” said Boudville.
A subsequent trip with Boudville to visit Chenderoh Dam revealed a similar living and working environment. Chenderoh Dam is still functioning. It has been upgraded and continues to supply power to the national power grid.
PRHEP was taken over by the National Electricity Board in 1982 per the lease agreement. The Batu Gajah station was closed earlier in 1976. MNPS was officially retired in January 1986. The huge lake was covered and the cooling towers and generators removed and the facility adapted and reused to become TNB’s training and maintenance facility, ILSAS, Logistics and REMACO.
During the visit by Badan Warisan, TNB had also invited former PRHEP employees such as Lee and Boudville. Another employee En Haji Tahir Don, 77, (control room-in-charge) had brought along his work notebook from his time with notes and diagrams hand drawn by himself and with pages all intact.
For Tahir, as with Lee and Boudville and several others interviewed, working in PRHEP was enjoyable and they took pride in their work there.
Considering the enormous contribution that power generation played in developing the tin industry and its contribution to the GDP of the country, Malim Nawar Power Station should be preserved and packaged as a Tin Heritage tourism product together with Chenderoh Dam and the last dredge TT5 at Tanjung Tualang.
After all, these few icons are all that is left to show the future generations that Ipoh and the Kinta Valley were once the The Richest Tin Mine in The World.