Agustinus Egot from Kampung Mesir in Manggarai district shows the location of the planned drilling site in his field slated for the geothermal project by the State Electricity Company. (Photo supplied)
Church institutions in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province protested against a government company for using their names to pass a geothermal project that was rejected by local residents.
In a booklet that was distributed recently, the State Electricity Company (PT PLN) claimed it had approached and consulted the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Commission of the Franciscan order, the Divine Word and Ruteng diocese regarding geothermal projects in Manggarai district.
In another part of the booklet, PT PLN also stated that geothermal projects are supported by the Vatican through the Laudato si encyclical issued by Pope Francis in 2015.
The booklet was distributed in a mission station chapel in Kampung Lugar, one of the areas where the project is slated.
The project plans to utilize 40 megawatts of geothermal energy potential but is opposed by the majority of residents because the drilling points are located near their village and farmland.
The government is targeting 60 drilling points spread over 13 villages.
Valens Dulmin, advocacy officer at JPIC Franciscans, told UCA News the inclusion of their agency's name in the document "is part of the company's tactics to legitimize the project."
“Our position is clear. We reject its location close to the villages and fields. In addition, the company does not dare to state that it'll bear the risk if a disaster occurs," he told UCA News on Nov. 8.
He said they had indeed been invited to a seminar on the project in August in the district capital Ruteng but even “at that time we were against it.”
"That's why we hope the company does not manipulate the information," he said.
Dulmin also criticized the company's mention of the 2015 encyclical “as in fact, in Laudato si, geothermal is not mentioned at all.”
Hermanus Herimanto Mau, from the Divine Word’s JPIC, said representatives of PT PLN had come to their office to discuss the matter and wanted to know their attitude.
"Our answer to them was that we reject the project,” he said.
In addition to mentioning the geothermal project in Mandailing Natal, North Sumatra, which recently experienced another toxic gas leak that led to dozens of residents being rushed to hospital.
He also cited the geothermal project in Mataloko, central Flores, which triggered gas bursts in the village land after drilling at several points.
Meanwhile, Father Marten Jenarut, chairman of Ruteng diocese’s JPIC Commission, said PT PLN had met him for discussion.
His opinion was that “geothermal project activities should not damage the existing environmental structure, and should not interfere with the basic rights of the community,” the priest said.
"So, the meeting was just a common discussion, not a consultation to ask for support," he said.
Muhammad, manager of PT PLN in Ruteng, refused to comment on the issue, saying it was not his responsibility.
He said the project is handled by the Nusa Tenggara Geothermal Development Main Unit whose office is in Mataram, in nearby West Nusa Tenggara province.
The government continues to push for geothermal projects in the Catholic-majority island of Flores, which was designated in 2017 as a geothermal island.
Agustinus Egot, 62, a resident of Kampung Mesir, which is also the location of the planned drilling, said he was against the project because it was near his house and on his farm.
“Where will my grandchildren go to work in the future?" he said.