JAKARTA — Indonesia says it will begin retiring coal-fired power plants for good — while still continuing to build more than a hundred new ones, in the latest mixed message from one of the last coal-friendly countries in the world.

PLN, the state-owned power utility, which has a monopoly on the national grid, announced late May that it plans to completely abandon coal by 2055.

“We are scheduling the retirement of our coal-fired power plants to achieve carbon neutrality in 2060,” PLN deputy CEO Darmawan Prasodjo said in an online event May 28.

He said the retirement plan is a directive from President Joko Widodo and has been agreed on by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources as well as the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment.

“This is a battle that we can’t lose,” Darmawan said. “The survival of humankind depends on the action that we are taking today.”

A day earlier, Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for investments, had declared fossil fuels a global “common enemy” during an online investment forum. Luhut himself maintains a stake in a coal mining company.

‘A contradiction’

In the first stage of its plan, PLN says it will retire three coal and gasified-coal power plants, with a combined capacity of 1.1 gigawatts, by 2030. In the next stage, from 2030 to 2055, it will retire 49 GW of coal power plants.

At the same time, the utility and the various independent power producers it works with are still on track to build 117 new coal fired-power plants. As of 2020, there were 11.8 GW of coal plants under construction in the country, according to a 2020 reportby EndCoal. That’s part of the total 21 GW of coal capacity still to come online, which includes planned plants for which financing has been secured, according to PLN’s Darmawan.

These new plants will churn out 107 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to Andri Prasetiyo, a researcher at Trend Asia, an NGO that focuses on clean energy transition. And with plants typically operating for 35 to 40 years, it’s likely Indonesia will still have a large fleet of coal plants running in 2060 or even 2065, despite what PLN says.

“Meanwhile, coal-fired power plants have to totally cease to operate by 2050 in order to achieve the global target of net-zero emissions to tackle the climate crisis,”Andri said.

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Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash