Leuser Ecosystem Faces New Challenge with Major New Geothermal Plant Being Proposed by Turkish Company – Hitay Holdings
A consortium of local environmental groups supported by Global Conservation including
Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA) and Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program are organizing for the Indonesian and Aceh state government to reject a proposed plan to build geothermal plants and road networks into the Gunung Leuser National Park and Leuser Ecosystem, a UNESCO World Heritage site for Sumatran Tropical Rainforest Heritage.
Local environmental groups in Aceh and North Sumatra are calling on Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment to immediately reject plans to destroy a critically important wildlife habitat and intact forest ecosystem.
A recent study by Hitay Holdings, a Turkish company behind the major new geothermal plant being proposed in the Leuser Ecosystem falls far short of a proper scientific assessment and makes broad sweeping recommendations based on inadequate data, with little discussion of environmental impact.
The area in question is currently designated as ‘Zona Inti’ or Core Area of the Gunung Leuser National Park. For the project to proceed, its National park status would have to be downgraded by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, from Zona Inti to ‘Zona Pemanfataan’ or Utilisation Zone.
The groups warn that if rezoning is granted, and the project is allowed to go ahead, it would have major consequences for the survival of several critically endangered species that depend on this corridor for movement and reproduction.
Farwiza Farhan, Chairperson of Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA), explained, “Researchers from UGM presented a report on December 8th 2016, recommending the reclassification of protected forests which are part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra World Heritage Site. This would enable a geothermal energy project to destroy a core conservation zone right in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem, as clearly already recognized by the government due to its current zona inti status.”
Following the company’s proposal to develop a geothermal project in the Kappi Plateau region, a core area and critically important biodiversity corridor within the Gunung Leuser National Park, Aceh Governor, Zaini Abdullah, has written to Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry to request the rezoning of nearly 8,000 hectares of protected forest.
The Leuser forests are home to some of the last remaining viable wild populations of Sumatra’s most iconic species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, elephant and orangutan.
The Kappi region is the core of the only remaining major habitat corridor connecting the eastern and western forest block of the National Park, which is part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra World Heritage Site and part of the larger Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area further protected under Indonesian Law for its environmental function.
Panut Hadisiswoyo, Director of the Orangutan Information Centre stated, “Previously we have seen some positive statements from Government regarding this project. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Director for Conservation, Tachrir Fathoni, in September confirmed that the Minister had received a letter from the Aceh Governor requesting the status change and told media that “from socialization and public consultation, the result was disagreement with the rezoning, so that’s that. The plan stops there,” - but now we see the company continuing with their plans and still trying to get Government support to rezone a part of a globally important World Heritage Site and turn it into a geothermal plant. We are confused and extremely concerned by the conflicting messages coming from the Ministry who are supposed to be protecting this area,” Panut stressed. “We completely oppose the rezoning request.”
Efendi Isma, Spokesperson of KPHA, added, “Aceh’s own department of mining and energy’s website shows the potential of geothermal energy in the Leuser forests is very small relative to the potential in other parts of Aceh. It clearly shows that there are at least 14 alternative locations in 7 Districts for geothermal projects in the province, capable of producing a combined output of over 950 MW, compared to just 142 MW from the proposed Gunung Kembar site and other potential sites in Gayo Lues District. Most of these alternatives are also much closer to Aceh’s main human population hubs, and hence closer to the demand and more efficient. It seems ridiculous that this alternative potential is not exploited first, and that the first project to be developed could end up right in the middle of Aceh’s most precious and irreplaceable protected area,” he exclaimed.
The consortium is urging Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment to immediately reject the possibility of downgrading the status of the Kappi Plateau region and reaffirm their commitment to retaining its Zona Inti (Core Area) status.
The national park constitutes part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, a status referenced by the environment ministry in its letter of rejection to the governor.
Kusnadi Oldani of Indonesia Green Union said that if President Joko Widodo’s administration was serious about protecting the park, it should reject all proposed development plans for it.
He further urged Governor Nuradi not to press the issue with Jakarta.
“This is a world heritage site,” Oldani said. “Indonesia has committed to manage it wisely.”
Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, said the Aceh government had plenty of other options for geothermal sites, such as in the Mount Seulawah Agam area.
“The sad thing is that whilst the Kappi region and the upper Kluet [River] are extremely important areas for elephants, tigers and orangutans, the pressure is really on to get these things built,” Singleton told Mongabay.
“If the government said it was for supply of electricity for the area, we are confused as the location is in the heart of a national park and there are no villages in the surrounding areas. Even in outside of the site, there are no significant villages to justify new power plants,” he added.
Besides geothermal, the Aceh government is planning to build a hydroelectric dam in the Kluet River in South Aceh district. The project, implemented by PT Trinusa Energy Indonesia, is expected to produce 180 megawatts.
Sources: MongaBay and HaKA
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