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The Wrong Energy Transition Approach

Monday, May 6, 2024

Pollution from the Ombilin PLTU in Sumatra is a threat to the environment and human health. It is being addressed using a bogus energy transition solution.

arsip tempo : 172126956038.

The Wrong Energy Transition Approach. tempo : 172126956038.

THE environmental damage and declining human health as a result of the operation of a coal-fired steam power plant (PLTU) has not made the government take the energy transition seriously. In Sawahlunto, West Sumatra, state electricity company PLN does not want to stop the operations of the 28-year-old Ombilin PLTU.

Human suffering caused by the Ombilin PLTU is becoming more apparent and is on the increase. Now, 20 percent of the inhabitants of Talawi, living within 500 meters of the power plant, are suffering from respiratory problems and chest infections. They are not only inhaling dirty air from the plant chimneys, but also contaminated air containing fly ash from the 7,000 tons of coal transported by truck every day.

The environment around Ombilin PLTU is also polluted because the ash left over from burning the coal is simply piled up and then spreads. The Sawahlunto City administration has discovered untreated waste contaminating the water and the area around the plant. Now, on top of the pollution, there is the loud noise made by the aging generator. But none of this has prompted any action from the central government.

The Padang Legal Aid Foundation, which has filed a lawsuit to halt operations of the Ombilin PLTU, has not been able to obtain any official information about the operations of the plant. The Environment and Forestry Ministry has refused to provide any information about the monitoring of administrative sanctions applied against the Ombilin PLTU in 2018. And this oversight has become even more lax since fly ash-bottom ash was removed from the category of dangerous and poisonous waste by Law No. 11/2020 on Job Creation.

PLN claims that it has dealt with the impact of the contamination by increasing the use of co-firing technology, which mixes coal and biomass. As well as only requiring 0.17 percent of the total fuel to run two 100-megawatt generators, the use of this sawdust creates another problem: dust and smoke caused by burning it adds to the pollution of the air.

The root cause of this problem is the lack of government’s commitment to the energy transition to help achieve Indonesia’s 2060 target of zero emissions to mitigate the climate crisis. The government plans to balance production and absorption of emissions from the energy sector by 2050 by halting the use of coal-fired power plants from 2035. Before this, PLN will reduce the use of coal from its power plants through co-firing.

But, as can be seen from the Ombilin PLTU, co-firing is not a solution in the energy transition period. The use of biomass, not only producing other contamination, but also encourages deforestation because of the increased use of wood. Meanwhile, energy forest plantations have never achieved profitability in a business sense because their products are always more expensive than coal.

If the government is serious about its commitment to the energy transition, the way forward is to radically reduce the use of coal at all power plants. The funding for unnecessary lighthouse projects, such as the new capital and toll roads, could be diverted to cover the costs of energy transition technology. Grant schemes or a carbon trading mechanism with the international world could also provide an opportunity to obtain funding for this program.

Therefore, a word of advice to the Ombilin PLTU management: there is no need to continue with the pretext of co-firing, which is nothing more than lip service to appease the coal barons. It is time the government declared an energy transition without bogus solutions, before our environment suffers even more damage, and before more Indonesians fall victim as could be seen today at the Ombilin PLTU, Sawahlunto.

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