Criticism of Batang Toru Hydropower Project Misplaced: Gov't, House
Jakarta. The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry has defended the government's decision to build the Batang Toru hydroelectric power plant in North Sumatra, arguing that criticisms from non-governmental organizations regarding the project's environmental sustainability and its presumed threat to rare orangutans are incorrect.
"The Environment and Forestry Ministry has written a letter to the president [Joko Widodo]. There are no problems regarding the environment," said Harris, the director of new and renewable energy at the ministry.
North Sumatra Hydropower Energy is building a $1.6 billion dam and power plant near the Batang Toru forest, home to rare Tapanuli orangutans. The project will add 510 megawatts of power in North Sumatra province, which still lacks energy source to support its development.
Several environmental NGOs, however, have raised concerns that the project may destroy the orangutan's delicate habitats and drive the rare animal to extinction.
Harris, however, said Jokowi has received a full explanation of the environmental impact of the development, which concludes that the project has made sufficient effort to maintain the orangutans' habitat.
Munir Ahmad, the secretary of the directorate general of electricity at the ministry, said the Batang Toru hydroelectric power plant will be a key "peaker" power plant – used when demand for electricity is at its peak – in Sumatra's power grid.
Currently, state utility company Perusahaan Listrik Negara serves Sumatra's peak electricity load using oil-fuel generators, which are expensive to run, as most of the fuel is still imported.
Munir said the Batang Toru Hydroelectric Power Plant will inundate a relatively small reservoir as energy source, not the protected 163,000-hectare Batang Toru forest.
The project will not change the local landscape and have minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystems, Munir said.
Gus Irawan Pasaribu, a lawmaker at the House of Representatives' Commission VII, which oversees energy, technology and environmental issues, denounced groups who have been opposing the Batang Toru hydroelectric power plant using the orangutans' preservation as an excuse.
"Orangutans are important, but the need of the people should not be forgotten," he said.
Gus said the use of renewable energy can strengthen national resilience and improve people's welfare. Interventions to the policy, often campaigned by foreign NGOs, should be ignored by the government.