The Bengkulu Power Plant is a 200 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant situated on Baai Island in Teluk Sepang, a subdistrict of Bengkulu City, Bengkulu Province, Indonesia. The power plant was first proposed in a long-term electricity supply plan by the Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), the Indonesian state-controlled electricity distribution company, and the project to construct and operate the plant was awarded to the Power Construction Corporation of China (PowerChina) in 2015 . An agreement between PowerChina and local Indonesian partners was signed on November 25th, 2015 . This agreement established the PT Tenaga Listrik Bengkulu (TLB), the primary entity overseeing the construction and subsequent operation of the plant. It is a joint venture between PowerChina Resources (PCR), a subsidiary of PowerChina, and the Indonesian heavy equipment distributor PT Intraco Penta (INTA) . PCR attained a 70% stake in the venture, while INTA holds the remaining 30% . PCR also created their own subsidiary, Bengkulu Power (Hong Kong) Co., to further oversee maintenance and management of the site .
Construction of the plant began in October 2016 and was expected to be finished in approximately three years . The first unit became operational on November 15th, 2019, with full operation (i.e. 2 working units) initially expected to start by February 25th, 2020 . Due to complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic , the commencement of operations was postponed to August 2020 .
The power plant is part of a large-scale long-term strategic plan devised by the Indonesian authorities with the ultimate objective of constructing an additional 35,000MW of power capacity across Indonesia . Foreign investment is not shied away from in this initiative, as evidenced by this particular project: a sufficient amount of funding was attained when an agreement was struck between PowerChina and a bank consortium consisting of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and the Export-Import Bank of China . Ultimately, a total of US$360 million was invested in the project, consisting of US$90 million in equity from the TLB joint venture and US$270 million in loans from the ICBC-Exim consortium . Regarding the time frame, the TLB is obliged under the terms of the Power Purchase Agreement to supply the generated electricity to the PLN for a period of 25 years from the date of completion (i.e. 2020) . The coal that is used to produce this electricity is transported to the plant from coal mines located elsewhere (presumably in Indonesia itself as it is one of the biggest producers of coal globally). This transport happens by sea rather than by land in order to minimize the amount of coal ash that is released in the process .
During (and after) the construction of the plant, however, a number of actual and potential socio-environmental impacts have made themselves known, starting with the damming of a local stream by the construction team in early 2018. Farmers from Teluk Sepang were negatively affected by this development, as it resulted in the flooding of 15 hectares of agricultural land and the subsequent loss of their crops and income. After the farmers demanded that the owners of the power plant deal with the flood, a new waterway was dug by the construction team that empties directly into the sea, sparking new complaints of future erosion potentially degrading the land .
Further problems arose in late 2019, amid the first trial period of the plant, when multiple carcasses of protected sea turtles began washing up on the shores of Sepang Bay, a phenomenon that the local fisherfolk had never encountered before. A sizeable amount of fish had also died. By February 2020, the deaths of 28 turtles had been confirmed, although local authorities (the Bengkulu Environmental and Forestry Agency, the Bengkulu Natural Resources Conservation Center, and the Bengkulu Province Office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency) disputed that the turtles had died of polluted power plant water. This finding, however, was also called into question by the Association of People’s Emancipation and Ecological Action (AEER), stating that the turtles only died in this manner and in these numbers around Baai Island and not anywhere else  .
Other socio-environmental impacts include the air potentially being polluted by harmful dust (consisting of SO2, NOx, and PM2.5) and the sudden presence of toxic liquid effluent near the plant. Finally, Sepang Bay is classified as a high-risk zone for tsunamis and earthquakes. Nevertheless, 10 hectares of mangrove forest nearby was cleared in order to construct the plant, even though mangrove forests provide a protective layer against the destructive effects of a tsunami. Consequently, it is alleged that this process has left the area more vulnerable to future natural disasters. On top of this, the destruction of the mangroves has also had a negative effect on the livelihoods of local fisherfolk, who depend on the marine life that shelters in such forests .
Although the impacts on people and the environment described above triggered a number of protests and resistance activity, opposition towards the plant actually started before construction had even begun, when the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) spoke out against the then-plans in August 2016. They contended that about 39.85 tons of toxic coal ash, a substance that can cause cancer and developmental disorders, would be produced per hour of operation and that a better alternative would be to look at other natural resources for power generation (i.e. hydroelectric) .
The physical mobilization of people against the plant began on the first day of construction in 2016 when hundreds of locals (mostly fisherfolk) blocked the road leading to the plant, citing concern for their future haul and health. A petition was also sent to the governor of Bengkulu . On August 15th, 2018, several residents of Teluk Sepang protested the power plant in the streets, demanding a renewable energy alternative and urging the government to support the farmers whose land had been flooded. Particularly of concern for these protesters were the potential effects of air pollution on the environment and people’s health, citing such phenomena as acid rain, respiratory and carcinogenic diseases, and the degradation of agricultural land .
In 2019, residents and environmental groups, like Kanopi Hijau Indonesia and Koalisi Langit Biru, started a lawsuit against the power plant over its environmental impact and shaky legal foundation, with the ultimate goal of revoking its environmental permit. One important point of contention were the discrepancies in the environmental impact assessment (Amdal) that the plant had done before construction. According to the Amdal, 92% of local residents agreed with the building of the plant while 8% were unsure, even though the locals have heavily criticized the plant for years and no data has ever been shown that might confirm this narrative. Besides this, the Amdal did not include an action plan for earthquake/tsunami events, despite the fact that the plant site is in the vicinity of a red zone according to the Regional Spatial Plan of Bengkulu Province. Another alleged violation of the law could be found in certain zoning regulations. The provincial zoning plan put the proposed plant site about 80km away – in Napal Putih, North Bengkulu regency – from the actual site, while on the municipal level there hadn’t been any plan to build a coal plant at all. These concerns were purportedly brought up and then dismissed during the evaluation of the Amdal. The National Ombudsman agreed with these claims of maladministration, but did not recommend revoking the permit  .
Finally, in early 2020, the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, was slated to inaugurate the power plant in a visit to the region. Local environmental groups and fisherfolk unfurled a giant banner protesting the plant above the waters of the bay in response. Widodo ultimately canceled most of his plans in the region due to unknown reasons .
Elsewhere, in a move welcomed by activists, the current governor of Bengkulu Province Rohidin Mersyah has recently confirmed that he won’t be awarding an operation permit to the plant until they are issued a Certificate of Operational Worthiness (SLO) (which gauges environmental impact, among other things) . However, energy production at the plant might already be underway, as evidenced by reports of it already having generated more than 300 million kWh by September 1st, 2020 .
The lawsuit mentioned above was ruled in favor of the power plant operators in December 2019 after 20 trial sessions held over six months . It was reported that the judges had controversially decided that the community weren’t directly affected by the power plants . The Koalisi Langit Biru filed a case in the Medan Administrative High Court in April 2020 and also submitted a memorandum of cassation to the Supreme Court through the Bengkulu State Administrative Court in July 2020 , but received the same result. In September 2021, the Koalisi Langit Biru, with a team of seven members, on behalf of the local residents, submitted a request for judicial review to the Supreme Court through the Bengkulu State Administrative Court , . The head of Tim Advokasi Langit Biru (TALB), Saman Lating, indicated that the judicial review request was carried out on the grounds that the judge had made a mistake in the decision to reject the citizen’s lawsuit from the first instance and the following appeal, and that the judge did not see that the plaintiffs were victims who had a legal standing . This was accompanied by a theatrical action in front of the Bengkulu Administrative Court with a combination of a number of community members, including representatives of victims, civil society organization and art group students, showing the fight against dirty energy, especially CFPPs, having become a common agenda .
In addition, there were concerns from local communities regarding the 150kV transmission cable that passes by the local village . Kanopi Hijau campaigned and pressured the local government and PT TLB to move the tower to another place. Kanopi Hijau also hosted a series of three podcast that discusses the impact of high-voltage transmission networks (or “Saluran Listrik Tegangan Tinggi”, SUTT in Bahasa language).
The Bengkulu power plant went into operation in July 2020 . In January 2023, it was reported that the operator of the power plant, PT TLB, was listed among the "red" rating companies in the corporate environmental management assessment program (Program Penilaian Peringkat Kinerja Perusahaan dalam Pengelolaan Lingkungan Hidup (PROPER)) made by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, where 887 out of 3200 companies were assessed "red" or with bad environmental management performance .