Dust In The Wind

How a coal power plant threatens lives and livelihoods on the North Coast of Java.

This story is part of the Storytelling Projects, Connecting The Dots, which try to follow fossil fuels finance in Asia.

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Surmi’s sheep won’t stop bleating this afternoon. When their owner comes to feed them, they suddenly grow silent and calm.

Surmi Warsan, born in Mekarsari Village in 1972, herds 19 sheep with care, in a six by three metre barn. She regularly visits the barn to clean it, feed the sheep, and check on their health. She often needs to find out if there is a pregnant or sick sheep in the herd.
Surmi has done this twice a day, every morning and afternoon, for the last five months. She chooses to herd the sheep as her body does not allow her to work on a farm after a doctor discovered an issue with her eyes.
“My eyes hurt. That’s why I wear glasses. Seeing something 1.5 metres away is un-clear to my eyes, blurry. The doctor examined me and said that I had two health conditions; cataracts and a problem in my retina,” says the female shepherd.
Surmi says she started to experience eye problems around two years ago. At that time, she worked on a farm two kilometres east of a coal power plant called Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant.
While working, Surmi saw the coal power plant’s chimneys releasing black, brown, and orange smoke for days. As a daily farm labourer, she did not have any choice. She was required to keep working to make ends meet. Then, something inevitable happened. Surmi was exposed to the dust released by the power plant coming in with the wind from the west. Her eyes were in agony.
At first, she tried to shake it off. But as time passed, Surmi still suffered pain in her eyes, and they continued producing a solid dark-coloured discharge.
“I thought it was a common eye problem. I tried eye drop medication, but it didn’t work. Then, I visited an ophthalmologist. After five examinations and one injection, my eyes haven’t recovered, and my vision hasn’t gotten better,” she recalls the dark period in her life.

“I can’t see clearly now. If you are a farmer, vision is essential. You require it to plant, mow, and check the rice plants. When working on the farm, I was near to the dust. I am now far away and still exposed,”

That tough situation forced Surmi to lose her job as a daily farm labourer, a job she had done for almost half her life. However, even after deciding to become a shepherd, she is still exposed to the dust produced by Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant, even though her sheep barn is five kilometres away from the coal power plant run by PT Pembangkit Jawa Bali (PJB), a subsidiary of a state-owned electricity company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN).
“My eyes have a problem. I can’t see clearly now. If you are a farmer, vision is essential. You require it to plant, mow, and check the rice plants. When working on the farm, I was near to the dust. I am now far away and still exposed,” says Surmi.
Surmi wishes Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant would halt operations, as they have been proven to put her and her community in danger. Besides material loss, the coal power plant also harms people’s access to their basic rights of health, education, and food.
She says she is a victim of Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant’s development since now she has to live with the bitter reality that her eyes are damaged. In addition to that, she also suffers from a long dry cough as the result of dust exposure produced by the power plant.

“Based on the X-ray images, the doctor discovered that my daughter has lung spots. The doctor then asked if I lived near the coal power plant, and I said yes.”

Aeni April Nuria and Surmi share a similar story. Aeni lives 1.5 kilometres away from Surmi’s house. She firmly keeps the memory of things that happened to her in 2017.
Her mother, Raminih, says she was suspicious of Aeni’s abnormal growth. Her daughter was steadily losing weight and suffered shortness of breath and a constant dry cough.
Worrying about her daughter’s deteriorating situation, Raminih brought Aeni to Sidawangi Lung Hospital in Cirebon. She was then presented with a harsh reality when the doctor diagnosed Aeni with lung spots, resulting from poor air conditions.
The diagnosis shocked Raminih. She never imagined that Aeni would have to endure spots on her lungs when she was only eight years old.
“Based on the X-ray images, the doctor discovered that my daughter has lung spots. The doctor then asked if I lived near the coal power plant, and I said yes.”

“Before the Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant, I could harvest the vegetables on the farm and eat them right away, or I could cook them in the kitchen at ease.

“For Aeni’s condition, the doctor told me to always maintain cleanliness, especially avoiding dust and air around the house,” she says when we visit her house in Mekarsari Village, Patrol District, Indramayu Regency.
Aeni’s health improved after the hospital visit, but she has not fully recovered yet. She still undergoes outpatient treatment and has a dry cough to this day. This cough can worsen when the weather is hot or when entering the dry season.
Raminih does not dismiss that Aeni’s mental health is affected too by her chronic health condition. She looks traumatised and has been a quiet child ever since.
Besides her daughter’s deteriorating physical and mental health situations, Raminih’s access to food is also affected by Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant activity. Before, she could easily retrieve vegetable supplies from local farms. Now, everything is gone.
Dust released by the power plant chimneys affects the environment where she lives and damages soil quality and plant productivity.
“Before the Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant, I could harvest the vegetables on the farm and eat them right away, or I could cook them in the kitchen at ease.
Now, most of the plants are dead. Vegetables that can survive the dust can’t be eaten right away as they need to be cleaned thoroughly. If not, they can be contaminated with poisonous dust from the coal power plant,” Raminih tells us.”
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Supplier closest to the ruler

Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant stands on 83 hectares of land in Sumuradem Village, Sukra District, Indramayu Regency, West Java Province, Indonesia. Its total capacity is 3×330 megawatts (MW) which provides electricity for Java and Bali, particularly for West Java and Jakarta.
The coal power plant was built in 2007 by the consortium of China National Machinery Industry Corp (SINOMACH), China National Electric Equipment Corp (CNEEC), and PT Penta Adi Samudera. The estimated amount of coal needed by Indramayu 1 Coal Power Plant is 4.2 million tons per year.
The coal is supplied from Kalimantan and Sumatera by the likes of PT Arutmin Indonesia, PT Kaltim Prima Coal, PT Kideco Jaya Agung, PT Bukit Asam, and PLN Batubara.

Momentum for energy transition

Most of the coal power plants in Indonesia are located in coastal areas, like PLTU Indramayu 1 on the north coast, which adjoins Java Island’s North Coast (Pantura).
These coal power plants need vaste amounts of water to dissipate the heat made by the electricity generation process. Water becomes the main driver for the coal power plant’s turbines.
The need for water in large volumes is met by the largest water source surrounding the power plant’s area, the sea. Sea water is used to dissipate the heat when the power plant is working and the process of thermal waste disposal affects the surrounding ocean area.
The thermal waste is streamed through canals to the sea. The waste affects the sea’s salinity (salt level) and increases the chemical toxicity that then stirs fish migration.
This condition has reduced fisherfolks catch to 20 kilograms and causes the rarity of fish in Ujunggebang Indramayu. Soon after the coal power plant began operations, the local fisherfolk stopped seeing pomfret and silver pomfret fish in surrounding waters. Waters surrounding PLTU Indramayu 1 have also been found to be polluted with heavy metals like mercury and lead.
The amount of harm caused has led the government to plan the early retirement of a number of coal power plants in Indonesia through the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) programme, from the International Partners Group (IPG) led by the United States and Japan. The programme was announced by the Indonesian government during the G20 Summit in Bali in November 2022.
The US$20 billion programme is financial support for Indonesia’s energy transition as a step to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants to switch to renewable energy that does not harm the community.
Indonesia has ratified the Paris Agreement agreed at the COP 21 Summit in 2015. Through the agreement, Indonesia and other countries are committed to accelerating the decarbonisation process and maintaining the global temperature target at 1.5 degrees Celsius, through a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that must be updated every five years.

How are these coal companies faring?

1. PT Arutmin
For information, PT Arutmin Indonesia is a subsidiary of PT Bumi Resources Tbk (BUMI) which is under the banner of the Bakrie Group, owned by Aburizal Bakrie. Aburizal Bakrie is a politician from the Golkar Party – the largest party in Indonesia since the New Order era under President Soeharto. Aburizal Bakrie also served as Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
PT Arutmin Indonesia’s mining area reaches 57,107 hectares (ha) in South Kalimantan with a production capacity of 6.5 million tonnes per year.
In the era of President Joko Widodo, PT Arutmin Indonesia received a 10-year extension of its Special Mining Business Licence (IUPK) contract. The permit was submitted on November 2, 2020, just as Jokowi signed the Omnibus Law (UU Cipta Kerja).
2. PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC)
Apart from PT Arutmin Indonesia, Aburizal Bakrie’s PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC) also supplies coal to PLTU 1 Indramayu.
The company, headquartered in Sangatta, East Kalimantan, manages a mining concession area of 84,938 ha with a coal production capacity of around 70 million tonnes per year. KPC also has representative offices in Jakarta, Samarinda, and Balikpapan.
The President Director of KPC has been held by Adika Nuraga Bakrie, known as Aga Bakrie, since April 28, 2022. He is the son of Nirwan Dermawan Bakrie, brother of Aburizal Bakrie.
3. PT Kideco Jaya Agung
The next supplier is PT Kideco Jaya Agung, a subsidiary of PT Indika Energy Tbk (INDY), whose President Director is Arsjad Rasjid, who is the Chairman of Kadin for the 2021-2026 period.
Kadin (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) is a business organisation established under Law Number 1 of 1987. The organisation’s Articles of Association and Bylaws are also regulated in a Presidential Decree (Kepres). Although only as a government partner, not a few Kadin officials have succeeded in becoming public officials, even sitting as ministers.
University of Indonesia (UI) economist, Faisal Basri, in an online discussion held by Transparency International Indonesia (TII), Thursday, 15 April 2021, stated that Kadin’s closeness to the government is reflected in government policies that are considered pro-business. One example is the Omnibus Law.
Kideco Jaya Agung, which was established in 1982, has a 47,500 ha coal mining concession in Paser Regency, East Kalimantan, about 100 kilometres from the Indonesian New Capital (Ibu Kota Nusantara/IKN).
According to the Directorate General of Mineral and Coal of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM), 40 percent of Kideco Jaya Agung’s shares are owned directly by INDY. The remaining 51 percent is held through PT Indika Inti Corpindo and 9 percent by South Korea’s Samtan Co, Ltd.
4. PT Bukit Asam
The majority shareholder of PT Bukit Asam (PTBA) is the Indonesian government, through state-owned enterprise (SOE) PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium (Inalum), at 65.93 percent. Other shareholders are 33.78 percent and treasury shares are 0.29 percent.
5. PT PLN Batubara
PT PLN Batubara is a subsidiary of PT PLN (Persero) in the coal mining sector. Until the end of 2020, PLN Batubara managed four mine sites. Among others, in Sarolangun, Musi Rawas, Banjarbaru, and East Kalimantan.
Throughout 2019, the company supplied 24.02 million metric tonnes of coal to dozens of power plants, including PLTU 1 Indramayu.


The toxic, polluting impact of fossil fuels in Asia, and around the world, is no longer in doubt. This exposé focuses on four of the thousands of communities across Asia that are impacted by decisions made in boardrooms miles away.

Loss of livelihoods, deteriorating health and community displacement are the legacies of the fossil fuel industry and those that finance it.

The loss and damage incurred by these communities must be compensated, and the fossil fuel industry and their financiers are responsible. Extraction has wrecked our communities and our planet, and the hands that have paid for it are just as dirty.
But there is a way forward. Energy Justice aims to address historic and ongoing social, economic, and health burdens inflicted by energy industries upon marginalized communities through policy, programming, and wealth-building. The solutions for a safe and livable future are within our grasp, but they require the necessary investments to make this future a reality.
In the Philippines, Solar Scholars are building community-owned renewable energy systems to power their communities in the wake of a disaster. In Indonesia, the Just Energy Transition Partnership – a US $20 billion funding commitment from the United States and Japan, with help from Germany, to assist in Indonesia’s transition away from fossil fuels – is under constant monitoring from climate activists to ensure transparency. In Bangladesh, young people are coming together at the Green New Deal hub to discuss the direction of the Bangladesh government in the transition to renewable energy.
With more and more pressure mounting on financial institutions to end their financing of fossil fuels, it is time for polluters to shift those financial flows into renewable energy that is safe, equitable and prioritizes energy justice for all. Energy needs to be affordable and placed back into the hands of communities that need it, particularly those on the frontlines of devastating fossil fuel extraction.