Geothermal Project in Bedugul Raises Controversy

Indonesia is an emerging market that sees its electricity demand increase by about 10 percent per year, and thus the country needs about 6 GW per year in additional generating capacity. Indonesia’s electrification ratio — which is the percentage of Indonesian households that are connected to the nation’s electricity grid — stood at 80.38 percent at the end of 2013, implying that today there are still roughly 50 million Indonesians who lack access to electricity. As Indonesia continues to grow in terms of population and electricity use, the archipelago nation endures high hopes in expanding its geothermal output as a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to coal-fired power plants.

Bali is an island and province of Indonesia blessed with abundant water reserves, vegetation, natural resources and beautiful landscapes. One of the island’s most ubiquitous natural assets is the Bedugul forest area, which provides the island with major sources of water for irrigation. For years, Bali’s frequent blackouts have forced the island’s policymakers to search for alternative sources of power — particularly through geothermal power plants. However, the plan to build a geothermal plant in the mountainous resort area of Bedugal has been strongly opposed by environmental activists and religious groups.

In 1994 Bali Energy, a joint venture between California and a local company, signed an operation contract to develop a geothermal power plant in the Bedugul forest. In 2008, the estimated power production capacity of 175 MW corresponded to about half of the island’s electricity needs, but the project was put on hold due to opposition from local residents. While discussion about restarting this project lingers, action continues to be strongly met by environmental activists, who fear that the construction of this site would inflict irreversible environmental damage. Religious leaders have also objected to the plan, claiming that the Bedugul area and the nearby Batukaru Mountain are sacred points in the island’s divine cosmology. Considered by most Balinese Hindus as a “holy and sacred place,” the pure lakeside area of Bedugul is the consecrated place of Dewi Danu Bratan, a goddess of agriculture who is prayed to by farmers around the island. According to Balinese culture, mountains and forests are highly sacred because they are believed to be sources of life. As a result, environmental activists and religious members of Balism believe that geothermal drilling in the Bedugul area would not only worsen Bail’s water crisis, but it would also damage the sanctity of the area.

Though geothermal power can offer tremendous energy quantities, the governor of Bali has restated his refusal to allow the geothermal project in Bedugul in a statement from his office on May 6, 2015. He not only placed a moratorium on the construction of this location, but he also also reiterated the fact that this project would trespass on protected forest area in a religiously sacred area of Bali. Since the ministry of energy and mineral resources is still waiting for the governor’s approval to build the plant, delays continue to plague this environmental friendly renewable resource. As a result, any permission to now allow the Bedugul geothermal project to resume would require a new resolution and majority approval from the House.

To save time and money, companies must engage with local communities as a means of keeping them informed and showing them support every step of the way.-

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