TEMPO Interactive, Purwokerto: At exactly 1:00 at dawn last week, the small group started moving. They climbed and entered the protected forested regions on the slopes of Mount Slamet. It was pitch dark, but they were fearless. A person who lives in the area, but wishes to remain nameless, says he knows the forests like the back of his hand.
For a week, he says, the villagers have been hearing the news of extensive logging and clearing activities for a geothermal power plant. To prove it, they formed a small investigative team. Understandably, for them, forests are critically important. In addition to being a water catchment area, the virgin forests are where they earn their living from non-timber forest products.
From the results of field checking, they found dozens of people were carving out a road through the protected forest. They also found a number of trees cut down for firewood as their current holdings in the forest. "We are concerned that Mount Slamet will go bald," he said.
Dhani Armanto, Community Care Mount Slamet activist, says there are currently about 70 people involved in massive illegal logging in the protected forests. "We suspect that they work for PT SAE, who will build a geothermal plant," he said.
He deplores the activities. A permit from the Forestry Ministry has not been issued, so the land should not be cleared yet. The clearing, says Dhani, has started from the Kaligua tea plantation area to the southern climbing slopes of Mount Slamet. "People are worried that the land clearing will lead to flooding at the bottom and remove the hot springs, Baturraden tourism’s mainstay," he said.
Member of the National Forestry Board, Sungging Septifianto, reaffirmed that, before any permission from the Ministry of Forestry, land clearing is not allowed. "No exploration let alone exploitation," he said. Although the construction of the plant has been licensed through a decree of the Governor of Central Java, an official permit must be issued by the Forestry Minister.
Sungging claimed he had not received a copy of the permit from the Forestry Ministry. He hopes that the government and PT SAE will reach out to the community around the forest area.
Head of the Energy and Mineral Resources Office of Banyumas Regency, Anton Adi Wahyono denied reports about PT SAE’s activities in the protected forests. "We’re only doing topographic mapping," he said. According to him, they have only cut shrubs, not trees.
According to Anton, the project with investments worth Rp7 trillion is scheduled to generate electricity in 2014. However, because the license has not been issued yet, it has been delayed to 2017. In addition to permit issues, the investor who will develop the project, PT Sejahtera Alam Energy, must replace the protected forest areas twice the exploited areas or the equivalent of 100 hectares.
Two sites will be exploited in Banyumas and two more in Brebes. Each of the sites in Banyumas will generate 110 megawatts. According to Anton, the project investment totals around Rp7 trillion. One megawatt needs US$3-5 million. The electricity will be sold to PLN to supply the Java-Bali network at US$9.47 cents per kilowatt-hour.
PT SAE has a contract of up to 35 years to explore for geothermal in Mount Slamet, which has potential reserves of 175 megawatts.
SAE General Manager Petto Rashito says they can accept the decision of the Ministry of Forestry regarding the exploitation permit that has not been issued. "We can accept it, but, please, stop the delay. The longer it takes for the permit to be issued, the more inflated the investment costs will be," he said.
At present, he says, his company is carrying out other work while waiting for the permit. In addition to making technical designs, they are making drilling technical designs so that when the permit is issued, they can start exploitation. He guarantees that the project will not be harmful. "There’s no difference between drill an active or a dead volcano," he said.
Lecturer of Electrical Engineering Program, University of Jenderal Soedirman Purwokerto, Suroso, said the government must support the project. "Indonesia has the largest geothermal power potential in the world, as much as 30 gigawatts, or 40 percent of the total world," he said.
From documents obtained by Tempo, PT Sejahtera Alam Energy is owned by Adaro Energy, through its subsidiary, PT Adaro Power who purchased it from PT Trinergy on Tuesday, December 20, 2011. In addition to Baturraden, PT Trinergy will build a wind power plant in Tangkuban Parahu II, Ciater, West Java.
Adaro Power was founded on December 17, 2010 by Adaro Energy and another subsidiary, PT Alam Tri Abadi. Adaro Energy's financial statement at the end of the quarter III/2011, showed a 50 percent stake in Adaro Power-owned enterprises and Alam Tri Abadi. Paid-up capital from each was Rp30 million, claimed to be the equivalent of US$3,000.
One of the shareholders of PT Adaro Energy is Sandiaga Uno, who according to Forbes occupies the 37th position of the richest people in Indonesia. He has 633,338,202 shares in the company, or the equivalent of 1.98 percent.
Based on data from the East Banyumas Forest Caretaker Unit, Mount Slamet has a height of 3,428 meters above sea level and the remaining forest area covers 52,617 hectares, a third of which are protected forests.
By Aris Andrianto
25 July 2012