Indonesia’s marine ecosystem is under threat from dozens of coal-fired power plants (PLTU) that dump hazardous wastewater into the ocean, a study has revealed.
The Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) said the government had for years upheld a regulation that allowed wastewater from the PLTU, including those located in coastal areas, to be dumped at high temperatures, which has been found to be destructive for the marine ecosystem.
Based on ICEL data, at least 15 out of 29 PLTUs in the country are located in coastal areas and all of them dump waste into the sea. The government is planning to develop 95 more PLTUs over the next 10 years, 71 of which will be situated by the sea.
ICEL researcher Angela Vania Rustandi said the government upheld Environment and Forestry Ministerial Regulation No. 8/2009 on wastewater quality standards, which stipulates that the maximum temperature of wastewater is 40 degrees Celsius.
She said high ocean temperatures could reduce the diversity of vulnerable marine biota such as plankton.
Angela further cited a study conducted by Makassar-based Hasanuddin University researchers in 2014 revealing that the diversity of plankton in the waters of Punagaya village in Jeneponto, South Sulawesi, had significantly decreased from 20 genera in 2005 to eight genera in 2014 because of the operation of a PLTU in the area. The PLTU is believed to have dumped “unqualified” sewage into the sea, resulting in such destruction.
“The temperature of Punagaya’s waters has increased significantly to 33.4 degrees from 28 degrees in 2005, before the PLTU commenced operation,” Vania said, urging the government to formulate a new law obliging the PLTU to dump sewage at a temperature below 31.5 degrees.
The ministry had actually issued Decree No. 51/2004 on seawater temperature, stipulating that the level considered safe for marine biota is no more than 31.5 degrees. It also said temperatures exceeding 31.5 degrees can result in coral bleaching, which can lead to death in some coral.
The researcher further said Regulation No. 8/2009 was a derivative regulation from Government Regulation (PP) No. 82/2001 on quality water management, which does not specifically stipulate seawater quality standards.
“Article 1 of the PP No. 82/2001 describes ‘waters’ as all waters found above and below ground,” Vania said.
The ICEL is planning to meet officials from the Environment and Forestry Ministry to recommend a revision to the regulations in January.
Separately, the ministry’s environmental pollution and degradation director general, Karliansyah, insisted that the government already had the right regulation on wastewater quality standards.
“The PLTU’s wastewater has to meet the standards stipulated in the regulation [on seawater quality standards], wherever the PLTU is located,” Karliansyah said in a short message, “Everything has been stipulated in the decree,” he added.
To fulfill electricity needs in the next 10 years, state-owned electricity company PLN is planning to develop power plants generating up to 56,024 megawatts of electricity.
An expected 26,911 MW, about 48 power plants, would come from the PLTU. The remaining 29,113 MW would come from solar, wind and hydroelectric power plants, among others.