The Pangkalan Susu Power Plant is an 840MW coal-fired power plant consisting of two initial 220MW units and two 200MW units that were constructed later. It can be found in Tanjung Pasir Village, Pangkalan Susu District in the Langkat Regency of North Sumatra Province, Indonesia. The first two units were commissioned by the Indonesian state electricity distribution company Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) and were constructed by the Chinese company Guangdong Power Engineering Corporation, starting in 2007 . This was done within the framework of the Indonesian government’s plan to construct an extra 10,000MW of capacity by 2010 . They were both (belatedly) in operation by June 2015 and ultimately cost about US$329 million in total . PLN continued to manage these units itself until August 2018, when it placed this responsibility in the hands of its subsidiary Indonesia Power .
The construction of units 3 and 4 was announced in July 2013 by PLN, before the first two units were even completed . They are part of the government’s next long-term project to supply an additional 35,000MW of power on a national scale . A consortium consisting of the Chinese engineering company Sinohydro Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of Power Construction Corporation of China (also known as PowerChina), and the Indonesian power plant/mining company PT Nusantara Energi Mandiri was awarded the contract to construct and, afterwards, operate the two new units to the tune of US$235.96 million and Rp1.96 trillion (at the time, equal to about US$163.72 million). With the approval of the Indonesian Ministry of Finance, a US$373 million loan was granted by the Export-Import Bank of China to cover the costs of the project, with an additional US$65.55 million being provided in equity by the Indonesian government   . Units 3 and 4 were eventually completed and started operating by September 2019 .
The electricity generated by the plant has mainly served to empower the province of North Sumatra, where, as recently as 2015, there was a power deficit of at least 400MW . As of 2020, however, the plant (in addition to other provincial power sources) contributes more than enough to serve the province’s energy needs, with PLN North Sumatra having a reserve of about 90MW in 2019 . It was reported that the plant helped to stabilize the electricity supply and reduce the occurrence of blackout, contributing up to 16.75% of the peak load of the North Sumatra System.
While units 1 and 2 only need approximately 480,000 tons of coal per year, units 3 and 4 utilize about 2.14-2.16 million tons per year among both of them. This coal is being supplied by a host of different mining companies in Jambi and Kalimantan, such as PT Bukit Sumut (Jambi) and PT Arutmin Indonesia (East Kalimantan) for unit 3 and 4 (see project details), which means it has to be shipped in  .
Both sets of units have had socio-environmental impacts associated with them, particularly with regards to the nearby village of Tanjung Pasir, which numbers approximately 3900 people . During the construction of the first two units, for instance, the contractors were suspected of illegally destroying mangrove forests in the area, as they did not have a forest land use permit, and of employing hundreds of possibly undocumented Chinese workers in the process . The construction process also caused damage to public roads and nearby houses (as a result of material-hauling trucks) and spread harmful dust in the vicinity . Moreover, some locals have suffered the loss of part of their land – and the loss of the crops/plants that were being grown on that land – due to the impact of the power plant . Other impacts include the dumping of waste water, the loss of natural water sources, and the increased prevalence of soil erosion . Multiple plant workers have also been killed or injured in workplace accidents during the construction and operation of the last two units  .
The shipping of the vast amounts of coal needed for the operation of the plant has brought a litany of consequences with it. The barges responsible for the shipping are not covered with tarps, which means rainy and windy weather conditions cause a lot of coal dust and coal waste to end up in the waters off the shore of Pangkalan Susu. As a result, the water has attained a darker color and dolphins have become a rare sight. Furthermore, these coal products can have serious effects on the health of both the people (cancer, respiratory diseases, strokes, heart attacks, etc.) and the marine life (which might later be consumed by locals) in the area. There have already been reports of locals developing respiratory problems and there has been a sizeable decrease in the amount of fish that fisherfolk are able to find and catch. Because of this, a lot of people’s livelihoods are seriously threatened, with one fisherman’s average catch going from Rp150,000-200,000 to Rp35,000 (equivalent to a change from US$10-15 to US$2.50)  . Fish farms have also been affected, with shrimp farmers stating that thousands of their shrimp had died by coming into contact with coal waste and coal ash .
All of these impacts on the local environment and population have led people to oppose the power plant in its various stages throughout the years. The first instance of opposition occurred in 2009, still during construction of the first two units, when the Langkat Regency Government temporarily sealed the construction site because the plant was not in possession of certain permits (building, business place, and disturbance permits) and was in violation of several laws and regulations concerning foreign workers and forest areas . These issues were seemingly resolved by the time the construction site had to close down temporarily for a second time, when, in 2012, the local community protested the construction’s adverse effects on local roads and residential areas . A year later, protesters were on the streets again to demand compensation for their lost land and crops, with a lawmaker from Langkat Regency’s regional council also chiming in to express his concern . This land dispute carried over into early 2014, when the plant was still unable to complete the facilities connecting the plant to the electricity distribution grid due to farmers and other residents holding on to their land. PLN said they had offered official land prices for these areas, but that the residents had demanded more. Eventually, this opposition ceased, presumably because of the North Sumatra deputy governor’s warning that the price would be settled in local courts if the residents’ ‘obstruction’ continued .
In 2018, a group consisting of dozens of environmental activists, students, fisherfolk, and farmers protested against the use of coal and coal-fired power plants in front of the North Sumatran governor’s office. This was both a general demonstration against coal energy and, more specifically, a protest to denounce the negative impacts of the Pangkalan Susu power plant, with a campaign manager for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) decrying its effects on the nearby village . Another protest took place in June 2019, when hundreds of fisherfolk and environmental activists organized a boat rally on the waters near the power plant to denounce the impact of the plant on their health, livelihoods, and environment. The fishers came from the eastern coast of Langkat and the nearby island of Sembilan. The campaigners read poetry, unfurled protest banners, and made speeches that urged the government to stop using fossil fuels and switch to alternatives . This was the most recent major protest against the power plant, although there was still a small protest action in October 2019 when the aforementioned shrimp farmers staged a small-scale demonstration near the plant; one which was promptly ignored by plant management . As of November 2020, the last known development concerning the plant was initiated by the Langkat Regency Government in December 2019, when the deputy regent (due to a request by students) called for the creation of an investigative team to review the plant’s operations and to assess whether or not the plant had been dumping coal in the sea .