Indonesia said it would reduce its coal consumption. But giving up “natural wealth” is not easy

Indonesia said it would reduce its coal consumption.  But giving up “natural wealth” is not easy

But it is adding two more units to its Suralaya power plant, in Banten province next to the capital, Jakarta, and has plans for new plants to power its nickel industry – key to the electric car boom.

Women discuss air pollution near the Suralaya coal-fired power plant in Cilegon, Indonesia’s Banten province. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Like many Indonesians with one name, Sanya, a 37-year-old housewife, fears Suralaya’s expansion.

“I’m very worried. It’s been very scary. I want to get out if I can because our house is very close to the factory,” she said.

“If the units start up, the dust in here will be much worse. I mop the floor two to three times a day. The noise makes my head hurt. The smell is terrible.”

It’s a story being repeated across Indonesia, where the government has pledged To finish the construction of new coal plants It has been mitigated by loopholes that allow existing expansions such as the one in Suralaya to go ahead.

The government’s promise also excludes so-called captive coal – plants that feed industry rather than feed it into the grid.

As Asia chokes with deadly smog, Indonesia is cutting coal use amid rising pollution rates

Indonesia is one of the largest coal producers in the world, and relies heavily on the fuel to generate power.

But it is also the beneficiary of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which promises to mobilize US$20 billion to wean the country off its dependence on coal.

Under the agreement, Indonesia raised its energy transition targets, pledging to reduce net energy sector emissions to zero by 2050, and boost the share of electricity generated from renewable sources to 44 percent by 2030.

Solar and wind energy currently represent less than one percent of Indonesia’s energy mix.

However, its JETP calculations do not take into account captive power plants, where more than 13 GW have already been installed and another 18 GW are planned from 2022, according to the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), a Jakarta-based energy research centre.

Coal is Indonesia’s natural wealth…and remains the most relied upon energy source to drive smelter development

Hendra Senadia, Indonesian Coal Mining Association

Indonesia views these plants as vital to its growing role in the electric vehicle revolution, powering facilities that process nickel for batteries.

It even floated the idea of ​​classifying coal-fired plants as “green” that would power electric vehicle manufacturing activities.

“There is a big problem with coal power plants in Indonesia, which runs the risk of disrupting or slowing down the JETP process,” said Leo Roberts, an analyst at climate think tank E3G.

He added that this could mean that the agreement was not a “fully effective economic transformation for Indonesia.”

The Indonesian government, JETP secretariat and state-owned energy company PLN did not respond to requests for comment.

The World Bank has been criticized for supporting Indonesian coal plants

But Hendra Senadia, executive director of the Indonesian Coal Mining Association, said efforts to move the country away from fossil fuels were misguided, and that some coal-fired power generation was still necessary.

“Coal is Indonesia’s natural wealth. Indonesia has great potential in coal,” he said. “Coal remains the most relied upon energy source to drive smelter development, allowing us to become one of the key players in the electric vehicle ecosystem.”

Closing existing power plants is complicated by the relative youth of many facilities in Indonesia.

This makes them expensive to retire because of the years of potential returns on investment remaining.

“I think choosing to phase out is not a wise decision,” Senadia said.

“Coal remains the cheapest, most reliable and most accessible energy source.”

Children play soccer as the smokestacks of a nearby coal power plant loom in the background in Cilegon, Banten Province, Indonesia. Photo: AP

But campaigners say the analysis ignores the global warming implications of unrestricted coal use, as well as its serious health consequences.

Data modeling by the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research suggests that emissions from the country’s coal-fired power plants in 2022 were responsible for 10,500 deaths.

“This ‘cheap’ label does not take into account the external costs resulting from environmental damage and the resulting health impacts,” said Bondan Andrianu, a researcher at Greenpeace.

Fisherman Hawasi, 55, also blames the Suralaya plant for marine pollution that has depleted his livelihood.

“There is no more fishing in the inshore waters. We have to sail away,” he said.

“Pollution has besieged us from all directions.”


Malaysia accuses Indonesia of causing haze caused by cross-border fires, prompting Jakarta to refuse

Malaysia accuses Indonesia of causing haze caused by cross-border fires, prompting Jakarta to refuse

IESR says Indonesia must phase out 9 gigawatts of coal generation by 2030 to meet its commitments under the JETP.

But a Department of Energy study released in September suggested withdrawing just over half of that amount by 2030.

PLN CEO Dharmawan Prasudjo this month announced plans to build an additional 31.6 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2033.

But this is expected to largely meet growing demand, with most existing coal plants remaining in operation until the end of their lifespan.

“We will phase down coal, not phase out coal,” Prasudjo told Parliament.

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