Jakarta – An Indonesian minister on Monday said the country is committed to developing the resource-rich island of Rempang, south of Batam, into an industrial park, following clashes between villagers and the police over a relocation plan.
Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia on Monday promised an improved plan to compensate and relocate the villagers affected by the project on Rempang, including the possibility of moving them to an area on the island itself rather than to Galang Island, just south of Batam and Rempang.
Rempang is rich in quartz sand, which is used in the making of solar panels. Officials say that the industrial park is expected to house, among other things, processing plants to produce raw materials to make photovoltaic solar panels.
The government has cited a planned US$11.6 billion (S$16 billion) investment commitment over Rempang by China's Xinyi Glass Holdings, the world's largest photovoltaic glass manufacturer.
In December 2022, Xinyi officials met the Rempang local government and Indonesian tycoon Tomy Winata of the Artha Graha group, which holds an 80-year concession for the area.
In May this year, the partners agreed to jointly turn the island into a multibillion-dollar Rempang Eco-City industrial park.
The first phase will be 2,300ha, with up to a total of 7,000ha non-forested land designated for the project. About 10,000ha of the 17,000ha island consists of natural forest.
The island's population of 7,500 villagers will be affected by the relocation, along with farms, stores and schools. Each household was offered 500 sq m of land with a 45 sq m house on Galang Island as compensation.
But on Sept 7, villagers – many of whom have lived in Rempang for generations – clashed with the police when officers began preparations for relocation. This was followed by riots on Sept 11, leading to the arrest of 43 people accused of instigating violence and attacking the authorities.
Mr Bahlil on Sunday held a meeting in Batam with Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian, Agrarian and Spatial Planning Minister Hadi Tjahjanto and deputy national police chief commissioner General Gatot Eddy Pramono, and agreed to adopt a softer approach in dealing with the protesting Rempang residents.
"If we let this (project) slip, potential revenue for the local governments and creation of jobs would be lost," Mr Bahlil told reporters on Monday, repeating his appeal to the residents whom he had just met.
In contrast to a previous offer that would have provided villagers with a fixed compensation regardless of their home's size, the authorities have now agreed to offer owners of properties larger than 45 sq m extra reparation based on the building size, he said.
"The residents asked to be relocated to a place still within the island. I will discuss this when I am back in Jakarta and will check the project's master plan to see if it is possible," Mr Bahlil said.
The Rempang Eco-City project is being planned as Indonesia and Singapore gear up to begin joint development of a floating solar farm in Batam, with the goal of generating around 2 gigawatts of electricity that will be transported to the Republic via undersea cables.
The Indonesian government has said that the Batam solar farm must have 40 per cent "local content", referring to locally manufactured parts and equipment.
The plan would make the island the first location in Indonesia to have a major commercial photovoltaic plant operating on a large scale. Indonesia currently has only a handful of photovoltaic plants, each with less than 50 megawatts of capacity.
The Singapore Government has said it could start importing 2GW of renewable energy annually from Indonesia within five years, in what is the Republic's biggest effort so far to import low-carbon electricity. The imports would account for about 15 per cent of Singapore's annual needs, and would constitute the country's largest cross-border electricity contract to date.
Singapore's Energy Market Authority said on Sept 8 that it was granting conditional approval to five projects to import a total of 2GW of low-carbon electricity from Indonesia to Singapore
The five companies managing the projects are Pacific Medco Solar, Adaro Solar International, EDP Renewables Asia-Pacific, Vanda RE and Keppel Energy.
Granting of these approvals, according to Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng, means a "watershed moment" for Singapore's green energy ambitions. Singapore has committed to import 4GW of low-carbon electricity by 2035.