Electric dreams – are we there yet?
Approximately one year ago, community representatives from Harowu, a small village in the Heart of Borneo (HoB), signed an agreement dedicating land amounting to around 3000 hectares (named Bukit/Puruk Batu Karung) to support a micro hydroelectric generation system for their village.
Access and lights are luxuries to the villagers. It takes around 4 to 6 hours to get there from Palangka Raya (the capital of Central Kalimantan), travelling hilly roads, through the river and then often by foot, crossing the hill pathways. For the villagers, once the sun goes down, there is no electricity unless they use an electric generator.
When WWF organized a community participative planning session in Harowu and a micro hydroelectric system was suggested, the community didn’t just welcome the idea – they were ready to invest their land and money from their own pockets to fund the project.
The head of Gunung Mas District, which administers the area including Harowu Village, was also ready to support the idea. “If this project needs legal support from government, we are ready to set up rules to regulate a forest area upstream to be prioritized for the construction of hydroelectric power,” he said.
The development of a micro hydroelectric system in Harowu will support around 300 people to access sufficient energy, including small household industries, as well as help protect over 4000 hectares of pristine forest which acts as a water catchment for the area downstream.
In mid-February 2012, WWF revealed that construction couldn’t begin as sufficient funding wasn’t available. WWF-Finland, who support a program based in nearby Muller Schwaner, committed to allocate extra funding and assist with securing funds from other potential sources including Nokia and the Embassy of Finland in Indonesia. Sampsa Kianmaa, the Program Coordinator for WWF-Finland, said, “We risk losing support from our local partners, particularly the five villages who are waiting to benefit from the power station, if we do not find substitute funding for the project.”
Kalimantan is one of Indonesia’s underdeveloped energy supply areas with huge potential for hydropower, particularly those areas located in the upper parts of the rivers within the HoB. Micro hydroelectric systems are a reliable, sustainable, clean and viable energy generation source.
With the power generated from micro hydroelectric systems, local people not only can directly benefit through lighting, entertainment and information, but also have an opportunity to increase their income. Countering this, the power continuity is highly dependent on the consistency of the water supply upstream, therefore upstream forests need to be properly maintained and protected – acting as a strong incentive for environmental protection by local communities. With power from the micro hydroelectric system, people no longer need to buy fuel to generate power from portable diesel generators. This also has environmental protection benefits as communities can avoid carbon emissions from oil use and deforestation.