The Jakarta Post
Last week, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo attended the ground-breaking ceremony that marked the start of construction of the Batang coal-fired power plant in Central Java, although no ground was broken that day.
With his speech he hoped to instill optimism and confidence that construction of the massive coal plant will begin imminently, as though all of the project's problematic financial issues had been resolved.
However, the reality is that the power plant has been delayed for nearly four years now due to persistent opposition from the local villagers living near the project site. Today, dozens of landowners are still refusing to sell their land. They own around 10 percent of the 226 hectares needed for this mega-project.
The long hassle and local fight to stop the project has made the Batang power plant one of the most controversial projects in Indonesia. Since the very beginning, Greenpeace Indonesia and several environmental and human rights groups have supported the villagers in their 'David vs Goliath' fight against the project's proponents, Adaro Energy.
Without the required land acquisition, the President's decision to 'inaugurate' a project that has not fulfilled the necessary steps for planning approval has raised real questions among all the involved parties.
The affected community question why Jokowi has opted to ignore their voices, as evinced in the fact that their letters to the President asking for a dialogue have all gone unanswered. They are disappointed with Jokowi, who once promised to listen to his people's voices. To them it looks like Jokowi has put some large corporations' interests before those of his people.
What's even more tragic about the plight of the local villagers is that, by opposing this dirty energy project, the Batang community is actually supporting Jokowi's Nawacita vision and helping the country to achieve food security.
Food sovereignty will never be achieved if fertile productive rice fields are expropriated for industrial interests.
Given that completion of land acquisition is a condition of the loan agreement with the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the financial backer of the project, the project cannot possibly reach financial closure. This is why no ground was actually broken at Jokowi's 'ground-breaking'.
President Jokowi's careless move to inaugurate this project has not only upset his people, but will also put his reputation internationally at risk. Before deciding to continue building this controversial power plant, Jokowi should have listened to the Batang community's aspirations.
Allowing this project to go ahead will not only contradict his image as a people's president, but will also lock Indonesia into the dark age of coal.
Clearly Indonesia needs more electricity, but dirty coal-fired power plants are not how the people want to power their future.
The recent Greenpeace Indonesia report, supported by research from Harvard University, shows that coal-powered generation endangers thousands of lives every year, and the current plans to expand coal-fired power plants simply cannot be allowed to proceed if we want our children to live healthily and breathe fresh air.
Indonesia has an alternative, it is renewable energy. It is not too late for the President to take a real lead and show that he will prioritize the welfare of his people before the corporate agenda.
The writer is regional coordinator of the climate and energy campaign for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
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