Part 2: Micro-hydro fuels energy independence on Slamet’s slopes

by: Hartatik

Banyumas – That afternoon, a drizzling rain drenched Dusun Kalipondok in Karangtengah Village, Cilongok Subdistrict, Banyumas Regency. A number of residents who had just finished community service immediately approached Kusmini’s (38) food stall. Many of them ordered hot rice, complete with vegetables and side dishes.

Kusmini takes warm rice directly from the rice cooker that is still connected to the socket. The 900 watts of electricity connected to the stall and home of this mother of three. “The 900 watts is enough to power a 29-inch television, fridge, rice cooker and washing machine. I pay a monthly fee of around Rp 50,000-Rp 60,000,” said Kusmini.

He admitted that electricity from the Telaga Pucung Micro Hydro Power Plant (PLTMH) has helped drive the economy. Even the slightest disturbance can be handled quickly by officers, even in the middle of the night. In addition, MHP electricity flows 24 hours without any worries about sudden blackouts. If there is a blackout, there is also a prior notification.

It is a different case if connecting electricity to PLN, blackouts can occur at any time and without any notice. Therefore, Kusmini hopes that the MHP will be maintained so that PLN is reluctant to install electricity in Kalipondok.

Sunarto (49), one of the pioneers of the Telaga Pucung MHP, said that the electricity from the micro-hydro plant could drive the economy of the residents of Kalipondok. About 80 per cent of the residents’ businesses depend on electricity, and most of them have even ventured into online marketing. Thanks to electricity from the micro-hydro plant, she can run a photocopying business, and sell a variety of frozen foods and cold drinks. Electricity bills at home from the use of refrigerators, freezers and photocopiers in a month average Rp 100,000.

“We used to live without electricity at all, around the 1980s, with only oil lamps for lighting at night,” said Sunarto.

Self-operated turbine

Then, around 1989, the community living in the middle of the state-protected forest utilised dynamo-powered turbines. One turbine powered one or two houses and only three lamps. During the day, the electricity from the turbine is switched off and switched on again in the afternoon to keep the turbine from being easily damaged.

The turbine is installed along the Mengaji River. The electricity from the turbines to the houses flows through small cables supported by bamboo poles. The turbine is about 1.5-2 kilometres away from the houses. The villagers built the turbines independently, raising between Rp 3 million and Rp 4 million. According to him, although the turbine can last up to 10 years, the problem is that the wooden wheel is easily brittle. Every two years, residents have to replace the wheel because it is damaged and costs around Rp 300,000-Rp 400,000.

“Residents no longer use turbines, after there was assistance from the TNI for micro-hydro power plants in 2012. The assistance was initiated by one of the Kodim members who was concerned about the condition of the Kalipendok residents,” he added.

Telaga Pucung water flows into the MHP reservoir before passing through the water filter. (Hartatik)

One year later, the Central Java Provincial Government through the Energy and Mineral Resources Agency (ESDM) improved the MHP. And the second MHP assistance from the province was inaugurated in 2016, with a power of 15 Kilowatts (Kw). “In the past, the MHP assistance from the TNI did not have a kwh meter, so the cost of electricity usage was evenly distributed. The maximum installed power in each house is only 450 watts,” said Sunarto.

Meanwhile, the provincial-assisted MHP includes electrical installations and kwh metres, just like the PLN electricity connection. The installed electricity power varies, from 450 VA, 900 VA to 1,200 VA. In addition to households, PLTMH customers come from businesses such as hotels around the Cipendok waterfall tourist attraction. The tariff is determined through deliberation between the MHP management and the community.

The pipe that distributes Telaga Pucung’s water current to drive the MHP turbine in Kalipucung Hamlet, Karangtengah Village, Cilongok District, Banyumas Regency. (Hartatik)

Based on class

Zaenal (38), the head of Telaga Pucung MHP, explained that the tariff is differentiated according to groups, namely households Rp 500/kWh and businesses Rp 700/kWh. The number of MHP customers is 75 houses, plus two hotels, as well as neighbourhood halls and mosques that are free of charge.

In a month, the gross income from electricity fees collected by residents is around Rp 1.5 million. From this gross income, five administrators receive a 10 per cent honorarium. This means that each administrator receives an honour of only Rp 30,000 per month. The honour is usually taken at the end of the year.

“For the board, managing the MHP is not about making a lot of money but more about community service,” said Zaenal.

He is satisfied that the MHP’s income, apart from financing operations, maintenance and paying staff honorarium, can still be used for social activities. For example, helping with funeral money amounting to Rp 500,000 to Rp 1 million, if there is a resident who dies. In addition, there is a donation of Rp 500,000 when the village holds an independence day commemoration.

“The principle of MHP is not just to generate electricity, but there is social content in it. The community takes ownership and maintains the MHP so that it continues to survive, thus providing livelihoods in this hamlet,” he added.

Thus, he continued, the community can be energy independent at any time, so that it does not need state electricity. This is all due to maximising the potential of water as an environmentally friendly renewable energy.

Karangtengah Village Secretary Agus Sulistyono added that the water discharge of Telaga Pucung has never decreased. Even in the rainy season like today, the discharge is greater than in previous years.

“Last month until the floods occurred, the water discharge into the reservoir was reduced. If it is too much, the sedimentation carried by the water is high and can clog the engine (generator),” explained Agus.

Photo3: The turbine house of the Telaga Pucung MHP that generates environmentally friendly electricity for residents in Dusun Kalipondok Karangtengah Village.(Hartatik)

Water infiltration

According to the Geotechnology Research Centre, the protected forest in Banyumas Regency is the most preserved tropical rainforest area compared to other districts that are both located at the foot of Mount Slamet. And one of them is in the Karangtengah Village area. As is known, the protected forest functions to maintain vegetation cover, maintain soil stability, and as a water catchment area while supplying water to the reservoir system.

Karangtengah Village Head Karyoto said that there is a special consideration for the Telaga Pucung MHP to be managed by a group from the local community. In addition to the relatively small honorarium, the community’s participation in the management aims to maintain the sustainability of the MHP so that it can continue to operate.

In addition, there is community participation to maintain the supply of MHP water sources so that it flows throughout the year. Among other things, by preserving the forest as the upstream water catchment area of Telaga Pucung.

“The community is aware of the important role of the forest as a spring protector. Periodically, they also clean the water flow of the lake so that the MHP engine is not easily damaged.”
In addition, the water used to drive the MHP turbines will be channeled back to the rivers below such as Kali Peh, Kali Prukut and Kali Wadas. Thus, residents and farmers can still utilise the clean water. This way, a number of villages in Cilongok Sub-district can maintain their water supply.

Karangtengah Village Secretary Agus Sulistyono and Telaga Pucung MHP Chairman Zaenal check the turbine. (Hartatik)

Karyoto added that there were no significant obstacles during the operation of the MHP. However, he is still seeking funds to buy a good quality lightning rod. This is because several times the MHP was struck by lightning and damaged.

“So far, if there is any damage (to the MHP), it can still be handled, including the damaged German-made fan belt spare parts that we are dealing with local products. We are still looking for funds to buy a lightning rod that is installed underground, the price can be up to Rp 50 million,” explained Karyoto.

Dusun Kalipondok is one of the areas that has been able to maintain the MHP well until now. Even more than 10 years. Kalipondok has won an award as an Energy Independent Village at the Central Java Province level in 2020. Due to this success, PLN intends to connect electricity to Kalipondok.

“PLN has persuaded us three times, the last time coming in 2021. We still refuse to allow PLN to enter Kalipondok,” said Karyoto.

The rejection is not without reason, but so that the Telaga Pucung MHP will not be stalled. He considers this MHP to be a state asset, so its continuity must be maintained. Allowing PLN to enter Kalipondok is the same as allowing the MHP to be abandoned. In fact, the electricity generated by the MHP is still excessive, even though all houses in Kalipondok are already covered by electricity from renewable energy.

*This article first appeared on 6 December 2022

Banner photo: The water source of Telaga Pucung fuels the generator of a micro-hydro power plant (MHP) in Karangtengah Village, Cilongok District, Banyumas Regency. (Hartatik)

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