Sun, 11 May 2003

Electricity lights up Alor villages

P.J. Leo, The Jakarta Post, Alor, East Nusa Tenggara

Remote and backward was the character formerly of villages in Alor regency, which sprawled through hills or deep inside the island, far away from busy, city life. By sunset there was nothing but darkness.

Today, when the sun sets, one by one, light radiates from houses. The light has cast away darkness from the area.

People can now stay up late to continue their activities, including children, who can continue studying until late at night with brighter lighting. No more sore eyes!

This is unlike the past, when Alor people lived in darkness, literally in the dark, because electricity -- claimed to be one of the indicators of modern civilization -- could not reach the area. Geographical and topographical problems were the main obstacles to installing electricity.

Alor, in East Nusa Tenggara province, is a regency that is a cluster of islands. There are 15 islands, nine of which are inhabited, with the remaining six devoid of human population.

Now, far from the typical city hustle and bustle, people in Alor can enjoy electricity in their daily lives.

Previously, only 110 villages in South Alor district could enjoy the facility. Eight other districts in the regency had to live in the dark.

"Due to the geographical and topographical problems, our people could not afford to install electricity, which is standardized at 1,300 watts per household installation," said Alor Regent Ansgerius Takalapeta.

To overcome the situation, the local administration launched the rural electricity program on April 25. The program involves the generation of electricity from solar, hydro, microdiesel and dynamo power sources. It has been jointly developed with state- owned electricity company PLN.

"An indicator of our backwardness is that we don't have electricity throughout our territory. That's why we have launched this program and chose to use solar-powered electricity," Ansgerius said.

The program was officially launched by State Minister of the Acceleration of Development in Eastern Indonesia Manuel Kaisiepo.

"Night blackouts are the cause or problem in our territory's lack of development," Ansgerius said, stressing the urgent need for electricity to be installed in all parts of his regency.

Up in the hills, far from city life, locals could barely conceal their excitement when Kaisiepo went to Maleipea village, South Alor. He was also the first high-ranking state official ever to have visited the village.

As many as 120 solar-powered electricity installations have been established in the village. Although they could only generate 50 volt electricity, locals warmly welcomed the breakthrough.

Solar-powered electricity is simple to harness. The sun's energy is absorbed by a device installed in the open air. The energy is then channeled into the battery charger unit, which serves to regulate and transform the solar energy into electrical energy, which is then ready to use.

"I like the idea of having this kind of electricity installed in my village, even though it still has a low voltage, because my children can now study at night. It's also safer than electricity generated from other sources," resident Arnold remarked.

With such a low voltage, the electricity only lasted for a few hours before the lights gradually dimmed and darkness again blanketed the village.

Several youths in the village, however, wanted PLN to put in conventional electricity installations, which would provide a permanent supply.

"We would use it as much as possible. We could watch television and see the news from many places," said one of the youths, Yacob.