Nina A. Loasana, Jakarta – Dozens of environmentalists and residents of Banten staged a rally in front of the South Korean Embassy in Jakarta on Thursday to protest Korean state-owned utility company Korea Electric Power Corporation's (KEPCO) plan to invest in two new coal-fired power plants in Cilegon, Banten.
The group of protesters, which included activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), Trend Asia and Pena Masyarakat, demanded KEPCO to withdraw from the projects, saying that the new power plants could pose great health risks among locals, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trend Asia researcher Andri Prasetyo, who participated in the protest, said the power plant projects contradicted South Korea's Green New Deal – a set of goals for the country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and end the financing of coal plants overseas. The new deal was initiated by President Moon Jae-in's political party.
"We ask for the realization of President Moon Jae-in's Green New Deal," Andri said on Thursday. "One of the commitments of the plan is to stop financing coal industry projects, so we demand that South Korea cancel their investment plan for the new coal-fired power plants, the Java 9 and 10 [projects]."
According to recent research by Trend Asia and Pena Masyarakat, the projects will not only carry health risks for locals but also be unprofitable and unnecessary given that the Java-Bali electricity network already exceeds its consumption demands.
The two new power plants, expected to be operational by 2023 with a combined capacity of 2,000 megawatts, cost around US$3 billion in development, 70 percent of which came from external funding, tempo.co reported.
Citing data from state electricity firm PLN, the research argued that the utilization rates of power plants along with the existing Java-Bali electricity network only reached 57.3 percent; therefore, the operations of the Java 9 and 10 power plants would only add to an electricity capacity surplus.
Trend Asia and Pena Masyarakat, citing a pre-feasibility study conducted by the Korea Development Institute (KDI) on KEPCO's involvement in the development of the two plants, suggested that the projects were not likely to bring a profit.
"Therefore, South Korea should withdraw from financing the construction of the Java 9 and 10 [power plants] in Banten because there is no justification in terms of utilization for the benefit of the people," the study concluded.
"On top of that, financing for the [power plants] increases the risk of negative impacts on the environment and the serious health risk of premature death, as well as the heavy burdens that will be borne by the community due to coal expansion."
Mad Haer, head of Pena Masyarakat Banten, said the number of local residents suffering from upper respiratory tract infection in Cilegon was very high, as there were already many other coal-fired power plants in the area.
"Air pollution from dozens of coal power plants in Banten has also resulted in a lot of premature deaths. This project would only increase the suffering experienced by vulnerable age groups, especially toddlers," he said.