Coal vs renewables: Greenpeace Indonesia’s ambitious 35GW energy plan-alternatives

10 Mar 2016   lucyejwoods

After Indonesia’s previous government attempted to bring 20GW of new energy online, and failed, Indonesia’s current President, Joko Widodo was elected (in July 2014), promising a far more ambitious, 35GW, five-year energy plan. Will it come to fruition? I ask Greenpeace Indonesia climate and renewable energy campaigners: Hindun Mulaika and Dian Elviana Wulandari.

Q1. When was the 35GW, five-year energy plan announced?

Hindun: The beginning of this year [2015]. But already there are so many conflicting arguments, even the ministry for the president is giving strong arguments that this 35GW plan is based on a false calculation. Maybe 16GW is possible, but 35GW? It is impossible in five years. Our economic growth is declining; experts say [Indonesia] doesn’t need 35GW.

Q2. Where will the new 35GW of energy generation be coming from?

H: Sixty percent is coal; the rest will be coming from gas most likely. The 60% coming from coal is something we have to question the government on; the main player behind the coal power plants – and the 35GW plan – is the coal mining industry. They are creating a fake market to save their mining industry.

Q3. The five-year plan developments are based in Java (the world’s most populous island), does Java really not need 35GW of energy now, or in the future?

H: The question is more who needs such a big amount? This energy is not for people; electrification rates are already at so cheap. This dirty source gets a lot of subsidies. Renewables do not yet have this incentive from the government.

Q6. If the government had the same incentives for renewables as for coal, would anything be different?

H: It would be a different story. But as well as incentives, the regulation for coal power plants should be strengthened – like [America’s] Clean Air Act.

If we want to learn from America, the US government strengthened regulations. Coal power plants now have an obligation to use better technology: to be clean, to have less emissions from their smoke stacks, to install additional filters to make coal cleaner. This added technology and obligation pushes coal production [prices] higher and higher and higher, until it is no longer feasible.

That’s why gas and renewables are coming up so fast to fill in the gap. Almost 200 coal power plants have been closed, or are in preparation to close , and around 100 coal power plants across Europe. All because of market competition, with regulations already in place. The right regulation to save people [in the US and Europe], but, it is not happening in Indonesia.

Q7. Why do you think nothing is happening in Indonesia?

H: The government don’t really care that people are dying because of coal power plants.

Greenpeace just released a report in cooperation with Harvard University, calculating that the existing 42 coal power plants across Indonesia cause: “7,100 premature deaths every year, and could climb to over 28,000 per year if the five year plan goes ahead.”

Even the cleanest technology that exists in the world today for coal, the emissions are still double that from gas. There is no such thing as ‘clean coal’ technology really, even with current technology the coal ash content has more mercury. If you put a filter in the smoke stack, you get more mercury in the coal ash; it still poisons.

Q8. What is one thing people in the UK might not know about Indonesia’s energy landscape?

E: Most people don’t know that Indonesia is the biggest coal exporter in the world. Australia was the number one coal exporter, but now Indonesia is the king! We export to Japan, Korea, America. As the biggest exporter of coal we export climate change everywhere.

Also, the biggest deforestation industry after palm oil, pulp and paper, is mining.

Deforestation has destroyed, roughly, three or four provinces for mining. If you go to one of these provinces, it is completely destroyed, it is like Mars. There are many big black holes and poisoned lakes.

We must convert our energy to clean energy. Indonesia has a large potential; we have 12 hours of sun; we have 40GW of potential – we are on the equator!

Q9. I wonder how coal miners feel about this.

H: We had one event, there was a person who came and he was saying: “I need to talk to someone, can I talk to the campaign manager?”, he came to me, and said he was working for an oil and gas company. He said they know already; they know their industry is causing really bad climate change for the world, they know. But they just, cannot stop it.

He said: “I feel so bad about it, I know that at some point I need to stop, this whole industry needs to stop, and everybody that works for this industry, they know that at some point they need to stop”. They know that their industry is dirty, but they just, can’t. They need to be able to see a way out.

Q10. If the US and Europe are closing down coal plants, why are new coal plants being planned in Asia?

E: The Indonesian government know that there are a lot of alternatives, but if you talk about business, the government will choose the cheaper one; it goes with business calculations, otherwise [the government] just don’t do it.

Q11. What flagship campaigns is Greenpeace currently running in Indonesia?

At this moment we are campaigning against Batang coal power plant, and have been for the last four years. It is really good to keep the persistence of people to resist the project, there are still around 60-70% of land owners who would be affected that don’t want to sell their land. Even the representative from the main investor, from Japan, they came directly, the director, he came to Indonesia and tried to meet the communities, and he was asking: why?

We are now filing [ an objection] letter to Tokyo because there are a lot of violations, intimidations, criminal acts and violations of human rights that people are facing on the ground.

Q12. Is there a lot of grass root movements against fossil fuel plants?

E: We held a lot of mass protests against the coal power plant, right inside it, fighting against the Batang coal power plant development in central Java. If it gets built, it will be 2GW, one of the biggest coal power plants in Southeast Asia.

Q13. What success have you had from protests?

E: [Batan coal power plant development] has been delayed for four years!

Q14. Has the government considered alternatives to coal?

E: No not yet. There are no obligations up to this moment; no obligations from the government to the industrial sector for renewable energy development.

Another main problem we have here, if you look at success stories such as Germany or other countries in Europe, where we can say that they are quite advanced in renewable energy, renewable energy never stands alone. There is always energy efficiency that goes hand in hand with renewables. The German government has an obligation that its industries raise efficiency standards by a set percentage every year. But here in Indonesia there is no obligation.

Q15. Are there any showcase renewable energy projects?

E: There are already a lot of showcases in Indonesia, but all small scale.

H: The government in Indonesia has implemented around 4% renewable energy, but 95% is still coal, fossil fuels.

E: There are plans for 25% renewables by 2025. But they cannot achieve 25% if there is not the right regulation in place. For urban people it is quite difficult, the renewables project built by the government is a really nice showcase, and a nice story, but it doesn’t mean that coal stops.

When you have something so far from your neighbourhood, you can’t really imagine that it is applicable to you in your house. It is not about a single installation; it’s about how renewables can go into our central system of energy – into the big supply.

Q16. Is the renewable energy installed so far off grid and rural then?

E: Yes. Exactly. Decentralised, off grid and rural.

Q17. Is there a lot of public awareness? Do people in Indonesia have adequate access to information about renewable energy and climate change?

E: Not really. If you talk about awareness, they might know about climate change, these stories have become a trend for urban people. They go to [events] and all these kinds of fancy things, but when it comes to awareness, of where your electricity come from, nobody knows.

Nobody is really aware or understands how bad coal is: it is like a monster, and they don’t have that kind of understanding. It is quite problematic; they might say: “how can you ask me to be against this coal power plant when I still plug everything in and am using coal?”

Q18. People are not given knowledge of other options; they don’t really know about solar or wind as a viable alternative for example?

E: Yes, yes. Building awareness in Indonesia is one of our biggest homework projects at the moment!

Q19. What are your hopes for the future?

I’m not sure. In Indonesia the big problem is policy and leadership; for the president to lead the ministers to a commitment to address improving energy, not only in wind and solar [generation] but in hydro and geothermal too.

Indonesia has lots of different potential spots for renewable energy, that is why the decentralisation of energy is very important because we can’t push for power generation in the big traditional power modulations.

To improve energy consumption in all of society. Every region has potential energy: for wind, hybrid plants for solar photovoltaics, in Papua there is a lot of hydro potential. The government can push for society to use the core [renewable] energy found in every region.

Sometimes we talk to the media to ask, why don’t they, just, open their eyes, and see where the world is going at the moment? The global trends are heading in a completely different direction.

Q20. Do you feel like Indonesia is being left behind?

It is definitely. Even compared to another country in southeast Asia, there are some regulations about solar rooftops, and other things, or they will have some ‘green’ regulation or incentive. If you look at the solar industry in Thailand, they have now become an exporter to Europe. It is so big thanks to net metering regulations. The Philippines now is powered by almost 35% renewable energy. I don’t know what our government is thinking!


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