We Will Revise the Amdal [to Include] Orangutans
Anton Sugiono, North Sumatera Hydro Energy President Commissioner:
THE Batang Toru Hydro Power Plant (PLTA) in South Tapanuli, North Sumatra, has sparked controversy. Although hydro power plants are more environmentally friendly compared to fossil fuel based power plants, the project is believed to have the potential to disrupt the Batang Toru Protected Forest ecosystem, home to the Tapanuli orangutans and 15 other endangered animals.
Environmental experts have taken issue with the company’s flawed environmental impact analysis (Amdal), which contains forged signatures of the document’s producers. In the latest and final document, the topic of orangutans was not discussed. To learn more of the affair, we interviewed Anton Sugiono, president commissioner of North Sumatera Hydro Energy (NSHE)—the company responsible for building the PLTA—in November 2018 at the Dharmawangsa Hotel, South Jakarta, and on several other occasions.
How long has the Batang Toru PLTA been in progress?
Since around 10 years ago, not long after we successfully built the Asahan PLTA. The project began with a feasibility study, which we financed ourselves through NSHE. This is a different company from [the company that built] Asahan, which was built by Bajradaya Sentranusa, although there are shareholders in common. We began the power plant business in 1995, when everyone else was more interested in coal.
The Batang Toru PLTA is designed to accommodate basic demand for power. Why was this revised to maximum demand?
That was the wish of the energy and mineral resources ministry. To us, it’s technically easier to cater to basic demand. But the government wanted the energy source to also supply electric power during peak demand. This is why the Batang Toru II and III projects were included in the electricity procurement plan.
Why was the capacity raised from 240 megawatts to 510 megawatts?
It wasn’t actually raised. After all, the water volume stays the same. This is simply a different model for operations. Because it was designed for run off and peaker, operating patterns will become optimum during peak demand. Our power plant operates 24 hours a day. Of the four existing turbines, at least one is in operation. It depends on the volumetric water flow.
So the river water will be contained for 18 hours to accommodate peak demand?
This information came from a report by a mining company in Martabe, who was worried it would have difficulty disposing of waste into the river. The report’s assumptions and analyses are completely mistaken. It’s impossible for us to contain [the water] because there would be a drought downstrean. If we had wanted to do this, the project would certainly have been rejected by the government.
There is concern there might be flooding downstream during peak demand.
Floods happen when the river’s daily volumetric water flow goes above 325 cubic meters. Meanwhile, the Batang Toru River’s lowest volumetric water flow is 50 cubic meters. Even during heavy downpour, the river’s peak water flow can reach 700 cubic meters. There’s flooding even when it goes above 325 cubic meters, let alone 700 cubic meters. Floods were already happening before the power plant was built.
What about the orangutans threatened because of this project?
We built the project while referring to the Amdal. But there was nothing about orangutans in the Amdal. This is why it’s currently in the revision process. We are following the guidance of the environment and forestry ministry.
The 2014 Amdal mentioned orangutans, but not the most recent Amdal. Why is this?
During the feasibility study, our consulting company embraced the Ekosistem lestari Foundation and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. They said there were orangutans but never said that the project would eradicate them. Why did they not explain this in their survey report?
(Ekosistem Lestari Foundation Director Burhanuddin: We did not work with NSHE directly. The survey we performed was only a biodiversity survey of what was found there and their populations.)
The project area is vast, meaning it can disrupt the Batang Toru ecosystem.
Our location permit is only for 600 hectares. Only 122 hectares are permanently functioned for the needs of the power plant, meaning only 0.07 percent of the total area of the Batang Toru ecosystem of 163,000 hectares.
The government processed the permit very quickly. Was it because of the three Pasaribu brothers?
The signature was given quickly, in less than one day. It was the process of getting the signature that took a long time. In regard to Panusunan Pasaribu’s appointment as commissioner, we appointed him because the people looked up to him. No connection with Syahrul, because he became South Tapanuli regent after that. I only became acquainted with Gus Irawan one month ago. If there are people who are making connections, sorry, but that’s cruel.