An Unwelcome Development of Coal-Fired Power Plants

As fishermen from Batang, Central Java, used 48 boats to spell out “Tolak PLTU” (“No to Coal Power Plant”) on the waters of the Ujung Negoro-Roban River on Wednesday

By Jakarta Globe on 05:15 pm Sep 25, 2014

Jakarta. As fishermen from Batang, Central Java, used 48 boats to spell out “Tolak PLTU” (“No to Coal Power Plant”) on the waters of the Ujung Negoro-Roban River on Wednesday, Greenpeace Indonesia echoed their concerns that the proposed plant would threaten Batang’s generations-old practice of rod-fishing, a critical source of livelihood for the fishermen on the north coast of Java.

The plant, if construction goes ahead, will be one of the 117 new proposed coal-fired power plants in Indonesia, leading to increased carbon emissions. The Batang plant alone would result in 10.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, equivalent to the entire emissions of Myanmar in 2009.

An increase in emissions on this scale would be a step backward in achieving Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target , Greenpeace says.

“Meanwhile, at the climate summit in New York, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has just delivered a commitment to hold the global peak temperature increase by two degrees, ” sa id A rif Firyanto, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia

He added that th e commitment was contrary to the continuation of the construction of “dirty” coal-fired power plants. Such plants would increase carbon dioxide emissions, in turn dangerously increasing the Earth’s temperature.

Arif said Indonesia’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 41 percent could not be achieved in conjunction with the proliferation of coal-fired power plants.

On Tuesday, 87 Batang farmers took action by unfurling a message proclaiming “Food Not Coal,” to oppose the construction of the plant in Ponowareng village. The banner, measuring 50 meters a side, was a reminder to the government to protect the community’s productive agriculture and to highlight that their area was threatened by the development of the power plant

The large amounts of water needed by the plant and the waste water it produces will seriously impact the water table in the area, making it more difficult for farmers to find sufficient water for irrigation purposes, critics of the plant contend. The problem would be particularly acute in Batang, a rice-growing region that is heavily reliant on copious amounts of irrigation to come up with three harvests a year.

Arif also said that the power plant would threaten Indonesia’s efforts to attain food security, a priority program of President-elect Joko Widodo’s to wean the country off imported rice.

“Coal power plant development in Batang threatens food sovereignty, harms cultural and traditional Indonesian agriculture, and accelerates the pace of global climate change. This project jeopardizes the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people, including farmers, fishermen and other community members who depend on agriculture and fisheries,” Arif said.

He added that what was happening in Batang was not just a conflict over an unresolved land acquisition for the power plant, as the outgoing administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made out through the media.

“The real story here is about the tens of thousands of displaced fishermen and farmers who are struggling to maintain their food production, lives and livelihoods. More than that, they are defending the Earth from catastrophic climate change,” he said.

Wahyu Nandang Herawan, a lawyer at the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), emphasized that the government must act wisely in the case of the power plant’s development.

“Residents of Batang have refused and the landowners have chosen not to sell their land, so the government should announce a firm stand not to build the coal power plant,” Wahyu said.

“If they continue to build the power plant, it will potentially become a never-ending conflict and a catalyst for serious human rights violations,” he warned.

The project is a collaboration between the government and the private sector, based on an agreement signed in October 2011, to build a power plant covering 226 hectares. However, since the beginning of 2012, residents have rejected and protested against the planned project. Because of popular resistance, Bhimasena Power Indonesia, the Japanese-Indonesian consortium behind the project, failed twice to meet the loan disbursement deadline set by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the main financial backer.

Japan’s J-Power and Itochu have a 34 percent stake each in BPI, while Indonesia’s Adaro Power has a 32 percent stake.