Community energy in west Java

In west Java, communities are demonstrating how clean energy can be produced to meet their needs and not for the profit of major corporations. This is a story that is being replicated in many regions of Indonesia, in the face of energy access issues and the large scale exploitation of fossil fuel reserves for export.

Hydro turbine operator Hussein from Palanggaran village west Java

Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, but while its fossil fuel reserves are stripped and exported, many of its people have no access to electricity.

I recently visited the East Kutai area of Kalimantan, a region where coal is king and according to the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network, JATAM's Deadly Coal report, only 37 out of 135 villages have electricity.

In Samarinda, the region's hub city for coal production, you can stand on the banks of the Mahakam river and watch a procession of mighty coal barges go by, each one loaded with 8000 tons of black gold. Wealth from coal rarely reaches the people and the area suffers frequent black outs alongside its ongoing energy access issues.

In a country where communities are currently suffering the injustices that are forced on them by the coal industry and where many people do not have access to electricity, it is refreshing to visit a place where the community controls its energy production.

I spent three days with communities in the Mount Halimun area of west Java. The two villages I visited (Ciptagelar and Palanggaran) are both equipped with mico-hydro turbines which were initially set up by Indonesian organisation Ibeka.

Ibeka’s model is to support communities to generate their own electricity. They set up the turbine but insure that the community can continue to run and maintain it through the founding of a cooperative.

In Palanggaran village, I met a man named Hussein who is the community's turbine operator, he told me that “the turbine works better and is easier for the community than the national grid because the price is much lower. If you don’t have enough money to pay for the electricity one month, you can pay the cooperative the next month.”  Energy is produced for the needs of the people and not just the profits of major corporations.  

Asti from Ciptagelar village has benefited from micro-hydro power                             

A local woman named Asti explained to me that she is “very happy now that we have lights. It was so dark before and we had to walk around with kerosene lamps. Now we can watch television and the children can study better in the light.”

In a country where the exploitation of natural resources including coal is having such a grave effect in many regions, communities such as those in the Mount Halimun area are demonstrating the feasibility of producing their own clean energy to meet the needs of their people.

What really struck me in Palanggaran and Ciptagelar was that the technology that they have sits alongside the communities’ work to preserve their rich culture. The electricity has allowed the villages to start a community radio and television station that broadcasts local festivals, ceremonies and other bits of local life throughout the Mount Halimun area.

Coal companies supported by the UK finance sector are operating throughout Indonesia with little regard for the communities where they are based or the environment. Micro-hydro energy production such as that in west Java demonstrates how community run renewable production can help ordinary people to meet their energy needs at a cost and in a manner that is appropriate to them.

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