Damning new analysis of Batang Toru Hydroelectric Plant

Andrew Walmsley Photography


New analysis shows that the Batang Toru Hydroelectric Plant is unnecessary.

A soon-to-be-released report by a leading international consultancy warns that the proposed Batang Toru hydroelectric project in South Tapanuli Regency, North Sumatra, is not only entirely unnecessary for meeting Indonesia or North Sumatra’s future energy needs, but is also a critical threat to the local ecosystem and the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.

The report, entitled Analysis of Electricity Demand in North Sumatra Province and the Planned Batang Toru Hydroelectric Power Plant’s Impacts, finds that the dam’s backers have mischaracterised, exaggerated, or just manufactured much of the rationale for the dam. In brief, the report’s authors found:

  1. North Sumatra is almost fully electrified, and rolling blackouts are largely a thing of the past. The province has a power surplus. In view of the addition of gas-fired peak power capacity added in 2017 and ongoing improvements in grid infrastructure, the building of Batang Toru would not materially improve access to nor the regularity of power supply in the province.
  2. Batang Toru will not replace “diesel power plants rented from overseas,” as there are no such plants in North Sumatra. There is a rented floating gas-fired power plant. But the climate change and balance of payments implications of burning gas are quite different from those of burning diesel.
  3. It is claimed that the commissioning of Batang Toru would result in reduction of a very modest .0016 to .0022 gigatonnes of annual CO2 emissions per year. But even these are overestimates. Reductions made possible by Batang Toru are more likely to be on the order of .0007 to .001 gigatonnes of CO2 annually. Regardless, potential emissions reductions represent on the order of just one tenth of one percent of Indonesia’s annual emissions but come with enormous environmental cost.
  4. In spite of the efforts of the owners and proponents of Batang Toru to tout the proposed dam as a provider of peak power, only half of the plant’s output would be peak power. The remainder is baseload power.
  5. The need for Batang Toru’s proposed peak power capacity is already diminishing, due to the existence of a 240 MW floating gas plant, and the likely future construction of 800 MW in new gas fired peak power which will come on line in 2022 (200 MW), 2024 (300 MW) and 2028 (300 MW). Like Batang Toru, these gas plants produce peak power during the night and could also produce power during the day, if needed.
  6. As for Batang Toru’s proposed contribution to the province’s baseload power, this is already being rendered unnecessary by the 330 MW Sarulla geothermal power plant which came on line in 2017 and 2018, and could be rendered even more superfluous by a 300 MW “expansion” in capacity at Sarulla starting in 2022, as well as a the “high possibility” of 240 MW in new geothermal power at Sorik Marapi. Another excellent option for the production of power during the day would be solar power; the report recommends that the Directorate General of Electricity and PLN should give greater consideration to solar power.
  7. Batang Toru will not put diesel power plants out of business, and thus will not alleviate the negative balance of payment impact to the nation caused by the import of diesel. However, the high capital costs of building Batang Toru will lead to the outflow of dollars from Indonesia and into the bank accounts of the Chinese contractor that will build the plant, as well as the Chinese holding company that owns the majority of the plant, all to the detriment of Indonesia’s balance of payments.
  8. Sinohydro, the contractor that is building Batang Toru has a global track record of fraud, non- standard practices, and corruption on three continents, all of which suggests that Batang Toru has significant construction and operations risks.
  9. The Directorate General of Energy’s overly robust projections of power demand have led to an overbuilding of power plants in North Sumatra. This may be a blessing in disguise, as it could mean that there are many excellent substitutes available for the peak power (Point 5 above) and baseload power (Point 6 above) that Batang Toru aims to produce without threatening one of Indonesia’s world famous natural treasure, the endangered Tapanuli orangutan.

You can read more about this report, and find a link to the full PDF, at http://www.mightyearth.org/new-analysis-batang-toru-hydroelectric-plant-unnecessary/

Damning new analysis of Batang Toru Hydroelectric Plant

Zac Mills

An adult sumatran orangutan

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