With coal import demand from China and India falling, Indonesia’s domestic coal miners are banking their future on government policies that would see the number of coal-fired power plants across the archipelago nearly triple. Under one plan, initiated by the Jokowi government in 2015, 35,000MW (35GW) of new electricity would be added to the Indonesian grid by 2019 (the same year as the nation’s next presidential election). Twenty-thousand megawatts, or nearly 60 percent of this, is slated to come from coal, and this is just one of several policies intended to increase the use of the dirty fossil fuel. A 10-year plan published by state-owned electricity utility PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN Persero) stipulates that a second 35,000MW is to be built between 2019 and 2024 – also dependent on coal.
But these plans cannot be reconciled with the detrimental environmental and social impacts such a vast expansion of coal use would have, nor with Indonesia’s pledge to cut emissions by 29 percent from business as usual levels by 2030. Indonesia’s wealth of renewable energy resources (principal among them being geothermal) have the potential to meet both the growing energy needs of the world’s fourth most populous nation, as well as its responsibility to help mitigate the impacts of global climate change. The development of Indonesia’s renewables industry, however, faces several obstacles including government subsidisation of coal, the monopoly power of state utility PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara, and a lack of financing and technological know-how. The international community, including Australia, can help remedy this by providing financial and technological support for projects that will help Indonesia prosper in a clean energy future.