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Indonesia’s ‘green’ electricity plan undermines its climate vows, activists say

Clean energy activists say the plan threatens to derail Indonesia’s emissions reduction efforts, including its goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Indonesia’s new 10-year plan for electricity generation maintains the country’s heavy reliance on coal and will hinder stated efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, experts say.

The plan, known as the RUPTL, calls for adding 40.6 gigawatts (GW) of electricity capacity nationwide between 2021 and 2030, a third of which, 13.8 GW, will come from burning coal. The government and the plan’s designer, state-owned electricity utility PLN, has described the plan as a “Green RUPTL,” on the basis that over half of the nation’s additional capacity (20.9 GW) will come from “new and renewable” energy sources. The government’s definition of the latter includes commonly accepted forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, but also more questionable sources, such as gasified coal, biomass (burning wood pellets) and nuclear.

The RUPTL is part of the Indonesian government’s effort to boost the overall share of renewables in the national energy mix to 23 per cent by 2025 and achieve its Paris Agreement commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 29 per cent by 2030. It also has a longer-term plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report has set a global target for the international community to shut down 80 per cent of existing coal plants and have 50 per cent of renewables in the energy mix by 2030.

Clean energy activists in Indonesia say the new RUPTL is far from green, and would put the country “way off the track” from achieving those national and international goals if it continues to rely on coal to generate electricity.

Adding 13.8 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2030 would lock Indonesia into 83 million tons of emissions per year, or the equivalent of running 40 million cars per year, from now until 2060, said Adila Isfandiari, energy and climate researcher at Greenpeace Indonesia, during a webinar on Oct. 19.

She also pointed out that the planned increase in renewable capacity after the 23 per cent goal by 2025 would be miniscule: by 2030, it would be just 24.8 per cent.

“We need more than this ‘green RUPTL’ that we’ve got now,” Adila said, “to succeed in achieving the target of limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius,” or 2.7° Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels.

Observers also say that ending the construction of new coal power plants from now would be financially beneficial for state-owned PLN and the government, as demand for electricity isn’t expected to recover to levels projected before the Covid-19 pandemic. Even now, weak demand means that the two biggest grids — Java-Bali and Sumatra — run a surplus of 50-55 per cent between capacity and peak demand.

In commissioning new power plants from independent operators, grid operator PLN typically enters into long-term contracts with fixed fees, based not on actual demand for electricity but only generating capacity. This rigid business model has caused it to hemorrhage money for years and run up a mounting pile of debt.

“What is then the justification for using the public’s money for projects that are dangerous for the environment and are also detrimental to the economy?” said Andri Prasetiyo, a researcher at Trend Asia, an NGO that focuses on clean energy transition.

Andri said that with electricity demand still low due to the pandemic-battered economy, and grid experiencing a power glut, Indonesia should take the opportunity to start building renewable energy plants.

The government’s “Long-term Strategy on Low Carbon and Climate Resilience 2050” says coal-fired power plants will still generate a large percentage of the country’s electricity over the next three decades, although it does bring forward the date for achieving carbon neutrality to 2060, a decade earlier than previously announced.

“A clear proof for how serious or not the implementation of the net-zero pledge is must be seen in this RUPTL, and this is still far from what we expected,” Andri said. “There’s no place for coal in our electricity system, especially in the so-called green RUPTL.”

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.

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