Coal power plants threaten lives
Hans Nicholas Jong
The Jakarta Post
Increasing the number of coal-fired power plants (PLTU) from 42 to 159 will increase the risk of death from air pollutants in Indonesia from 6,500 a year in 2015 to 15,700 in 2024.
The government plans to add some 117 PLTUs in the next decade to meet the demand for more power.
A study conducted by Harvard University revealed that air pollutants from the burning of coal at 42 existing power plants resulted in at least 6,500 deaths per year from strokes, heart and lung cancers and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The number will increase to 15,700 once the 117 new plants are constructed. The 117 new plants do not include other plants that the current government plans to install in its ambition to produce another 20,000 megawatts of energy. The ambitious project includes the construction of the controversial plant in Batang, Central Java, which continues to face protests from locals in he area.
'Emissions from coal-fired power plants form particulate matter and ozone. Both of these things are detrimental to human health,' Shannon Koplitz, a Harvard researcher from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences said during a presentation of the research earlier this week.
Koplitz said that coal burning is the number one source of mercury pollution in the world. Besides mercury, other dangerous substances include a fine particle called PM2.5, comprising dust, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, toxic metals such as timbale, arsenic, chromium, nickel and cadmium and ozone.
The dangerous particles were transmitted by the wind from the power plant sites to nearby areas. Based on wind speeds, the research showed that PLTU Jati B in Jepara, Central Java, for example, generated air pollution in Jepara, Pecangaan, Kembang, Karangsari, southern Semarang, Rembang, and eastern Rembang.
Air pollutants from PLTU Jati B, contributed to at least 1,020 deaths from the yearly total of 6,500. It is considered one of the biggest power plants that in the country.
The study also analyzed the impact of the controversial PLTU Batang in Central Java.
The Batang power plant is estimated to put at risk roughly 780 lives per year and could impact Pekalongan, Tegal, Semarang and Cirebon by 2020.
Harvard University and Greenpeace Indonesia conducted the study from 2014 to 2015. The methodology used in the survey compared the World Health Organization's data of diseases caused by emissions in the country to characteristics of pollutants from the coal burning of 42 existing power plants to reach an approximate number of deaths stemming primarily from the emissions of coal-based power plants.
The 42 power plants include six on Sumatra Island, four on the Bangka Belitung Islands, 18 in Java, four on the Nusa Tenggara Islands, five in Kalimantan and five in Sulawesi.
Based on the study, Greenpeace recommended that Indonesia start shifting toward renewable energy sources to generate power. Currently, renewable energy, such as geothermal, solar, mini and micro hydro only contribute 1.25 gigawatts of power for the country.
'We can optimally use renewable energy 10 years from now only if the government provides supporting policies and implements stricter emissions controls,' Greenpeace Southeast Asia Head of Climates Arif Fiyanto said.
Separately, state-owned electricity firm PLN said that every coal-fired power plant project required an environmental assessment (Amdal) to get a green light. Therefore if a power plant was environmentally destructive, it would not pass the assessment.
'And they have to be approved by the government,' PLN corporate secretary Adi Supriono told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. 'As for the report from the Harvard University, I don't know about that so I cannot give any comment.' (rbk)
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