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Meet some Borneo villagers benefiting from green energy

July 20, 2023

Protecting the forests of Borneo has long been a priority for Seacology. The dense rainforests of the world’s third-largest island—which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia, and the tiny kingdom of Brunei—provide habitat for countless species found nowhere else. These include endangered Bornean orangutans, prehistoric-looking hornbills, and the world’s smallest bear. For untold generations, people have lived among these forests, passing down their unique cultures. But both this incredible landscape and the ways of life for those who depend on it are threatened.

Oil palm plantations, logging, and huge hydroelectric dams have led to the destruction of vast swaths of Borneo’s forest. Many rural Borneo villages face intense pressure to sell off their land to these destructive industries.

But there are reasons for optimism. More and more communities are organizing to protect their traditional homes and livelihoods. Seacology is working with several of them as they develop alternative sources of energy and income, making it easier for them to stand up to the offers presented by clear-cutters and dam-builders.

Going with the flow

Small scale micro-hydroelectric turbines have played an important role in the grassroots movement for conservation and land rights in Borneo. Unlike the mega-dams that flood entire valleys and displace communities, micro-hydro systems offer clean, low-impact, decentralized energy. They harness the energy of existing streams and rivers to generate electricity on a local scale.

They also give communities ownership and control of their own energy, and are cleaner and cheaper to operate than generators that run on fossil fuel. Seacology has invested in micro-hydro systems across Malaysian Borneo for more than two decades, as part of agreements with local people that are protecting more than 21,000 acres of land and the species that inhabit it. We’ve just begun our latest micro-hydro project, at Puneng Trusan Village.

Faces of grassroots conservation

In Long Tanid, a village of indigenous Lun Bawang people in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, Seacology provided funding for local NGO TONIBUNG and international micro-hydro experts Green Empowerment, who worked with residents to quickly install the system. Local people have received extensive training on the micro-hydro’s operation and maintenance. With water now flowing through the turbine, the village has already replaced 35 loud, polluting diesel generators—avoiding the expense and pollution of roughly 8,500 gallons of fuel over the past year.

Pipes divert some of the water from a local stream downhill, harnessing gravity to drive the turbine.

Long Tanid residents celebrate the successful installation of their new micro-hydro system.

Green Empowerment recently profiled several residents of Long Tanid in a series of short videos. They illustrate how this new source of electricity is literally keeping the lights on in the small village and making a real difference in the lives of people who are doing their part to safeguard their pristine forest.


Padan Ukab is the head of the village. He led the project, coordinating the work with members of his community.

Balan Berauk is a community organizer and single father of three who returned to the village to care for his elderly parents. He served as a community organizer for the micro-hydro project.

Mariana Sultan is an artist and mother of six. The energy produced by the micro-hydro system allows her to keep in touch with her children and grandchildren who live in the city, and work on crafts after dark.

Leslie Liang Sakai is a farmer from Long Tanid who became an early advocate for the micro-hydro project and volunteered to help with its installation.

Ramchie Liwie is an entrepreneur who runs a small cafe serving people who pass by the village. With the power from the micro-hydro project allowing him to work later, he’s expanding his business to offer auto-repair services for drivers on the rural road.

Disson Sinawat is a father of five who works as a farmer and carpenter in Long Tanid. He served on the technical committee for the project, and his business has greatly benefitted from the clean electricity it provides.