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  • NGULIK BANDUNG: PGN Braga Building, Proof that Bandoeng Had an Intracity Gas Network in Colonial Times

NGULIK BANDUNG: PGN Braga Building, Proof that Bandoeng Had an Intracity Gas Network in Colonial Times

In colonial times, the majority of large cities in the archipelago already enjoyed intracity gas networks. Bandung is one of them.

The Dutch East Indies Gas Company (NIGM) stand at Jaarbeurs in Bandoeng around 1923. (KITLV Collection 86704, Source digitalcollections.universiteitleiden.nl)

Penulis Merrina Listiandari3 Desember 2023

BandungBergerak.id – When the gas in the kitchen suddenly runs out, while the food has not yet finished cooking, a panic attack strikes. Lift the gas canister and run to the stall. More frantically when the stall owner yells, "the gas is empty, ma'am!" A typical problem for Indonesian housewives who do not have a spare gas canister. So, imagining having a household gas that can be used at any time becomes a dream.

It's very different when watching movies made by Holywood, for example. You can imagine a beautiful cooking scene interspersed with classical music. Suddenly the scene turns chaotic when the main character who is cooking has to stop because the beautiful Caucasian woman has to run to the shop because the gas in her kitchen runs out. It was hilarious.

Besides using electricity as a source of household energy, gas is an alternative energy source used in developed countries But of course, not gas in a canister as used in developing countries, including Indonesia. In-city gas networks (jargas) piped to every household in developed countries are commonplace as public facilities in these countries.

A good news was delivered by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM). As stated on the official website of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, in order to reduce and make the best use of the state budget, starting in 2022 the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has built jargas as a substitute for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). In its implementation, PT. Perusahaan Gas Negara (PGN) was appointed to start the construction of jargas installations in Surabaya.

Surabaya was chosen as the demonstration city considering that it is close to the gas source and has a good gas pipeline connection. The construction of this jargas will be performed in several stages. After Surabaya, it will be followed by several cities from various islands that are close to the gas source.

In contrast to these cities, Bandung is far from natural gas sources. There needs to be a special method to create a gas network in the city. Long before the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources' intention was launched, it turns out that when this country was still a colony of the Dutch Kingdom, Indonesia, including Bandung, already had an intracity gas network.

Gas as Alternative Energy in Colonial Times

The Dutch East Indies until the mid-19th century still used petroleum, spirtus and gasoline as energy sources in the daily lives of its citizens, including lighting. Not only public facilities such as roads, but even households had to make do with minimal lighting using kerosene or spirtus.

The problem of lighting in public places, such as roads, was a crucial problem at that time. Big problems ranging from crimes that could occur due to poor lighting, to unique things such as hotel guests who could not even find their own mouths at the dining table as reported later in the daily Java-bode: nieuws, handels- en advertentieblad voor Nederlandsch-Indie, August 12, 1896.

The Dutch East Indies government at that time was very aware of this energy problem, and they began to think of an alternative energy that had been used in Europe. European countries have long used lighting using crowned cups (torches) with gas fuel, which is considered far more effective than other fuels.

A gas torch in front of Bandoeng City Hall at the wedding of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard around 1937. (KITLV Collection 54579, Source digitalcollections.universiteitleiden.nl)
A gas torch in front of Bandoeng City Hall at the wedding of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard around 1937. (KITLV Collection 54579, Source digitalcollections.universiteitleiden.nl)

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Colonial Government Builds Gas Network in the Archipelago

A company from The Hague, Kingdom of the Netherlands, offered its services to the Dutch East Indies government to fulfill the need for this alternative energy. Together with the government, the firm L.J.N. Eindhoven & Co. Gravenhage, began building its first gas network in Pasuruan, East Java (De Oostpost, July 2, 1857).

After Pasuruan, L.J.N. Eindhoven & Co. Gravenhage was authorized by the Dutch East Indies government to continue building gas networks in Batavia, Semarang, and other cities. So, in 1859, the Dutch Ministerie van Koloniën (Minister of Colonized Lands) issued the firm with a 20-year concession. From that moment on, they were responsible for the gas networks in the cities of the Dutch East Indies (De Oospost, February 13, 1860).

The concession rights allowed the firm to expand the construction of gas networks within the city, in the Dutch East Indies. Under the leadership of engineer G. W. Goossens, the first Gasfabriek was established in Surabaya in 1860. As reported in his obituary in the Soerabaijasch handelsblad on December 28, 1885. This was followed by the establishment of the second Gasfabriek in Batavia.

It is questionable how gas energy was obtained in the 19th century, when natural gas energy sources were still unknown. Adopting what had long been developed in Europe, the firm L.J.N Eindhoven & Co. Gravehage, produced its own gas using coal as raw material.

The coal undergoes a gastification process or becomes a liquid material and is stored in tanks at minus 163 degrees Celsius. This is followed by a regasification process where the liquid gas, called LNG (liquid natural gas), is converted back into gas in a separate factory. The gas is then channeled through pipes as alternative energy for street lighting.

Photo of the Ned. Ind. Gas Maatschappij on page 14 of the newspaper Algemeen Indisch dagblad: de Preangerbode dated 1-4-1931. (Source delpher.nl)
Photo of the Ned. Ind. Gas Maatschappij on page 14 of the newspaper Algemeen Indisch dagblad: de Preangerbode dated 1-4-1931. (Source delpher.nl)

Government Expands Business Network to Electric Energy

The firm L.J.N Eindhoven & Co. Gravehage, was the only company granted a special concession by the Dutch Ministry of Land Affairs. Thus, they had a monopoly on alternative energy. In the mid-19th century, industrialization in the Indies had begun to develop, so energy issues were no longer limited to lighting public facilities.

As stated in the inventory archive of Perusahaan Gas Negara Tbk. published by ANRI, small companies began to grow and their existence was recognized by the state. So, firm L.J.N Eindhoven & Co. Gravehage, changed its legal status to Naamloze Venootschap (NV). Under the Dutch East Indies government, the L.J.N. Eindhoven firm changed its name to NV Nederlandsch Indische Gas Maatschappij (NIGM).

In relation to the development of industrialization, the need for energy sources is not only limited to the installation of lamps for lighting. So NV NIGM seeks to develop its business wings in the electricity sector. So, several power generators were built, apart from in Batavia, namely in Semarang, and Surabaya at the end of 1896.

Bandung is in Need of Gas

In contrast to other cities that have built gas network installations as alternative energy for lighting public facilities, Bandung still does not have it. Even electricity at that time was limited as a facility only owned by the government to support telecommunication networks such as telephone and telegraph. 

Debates among the community often took place, especially over how much it would cost to install gas. On the other hand, they needed lighting on the highway and also some public facilities that were still running at night. Pros and cons continued to occur, especially between residents who owned businesses and residents who were just ordinary households.

Until when NV. NIGM announced that a gas factory would be established in Bandung, the community responded half-heartedly. So, when NV. NIGM petitioned the Mayor of Bandung to establish a gas plant that would benefit the city in the future, most residents refused (De Prenger Bode, December 19, 1918).

For the citizens of Bandung, gas was needed by the government as street lighting, as an alternative energy to electricity which was still very limited. But they were worried that this would affect the amount of tax they had to pay and that the people would simply be exploited by the gas company, for their own benefit.

Gas factory in Bandoeng in 1938. (Collection of the Dutch Institute of Military History, source nimh-beeldbank.defensie.nl).
Gas factory in Bandoeng in 1938. (Collection of the Dutch Institute of Military History, source nimh-beeldbank.defensie.nl).

Gas Factory Established in Bandung

The proposal to establish a gas plant in Bandung had been made since 1911, as quoted from De Preanger-bode, March 25, 1919. Both internal and external obstacles such as financial problems to the rejection of residents who are worried about the negative impact it will cause. So it was a tough task for NV. NIGM to convince the public that establishing a gas plant would have a far greater positive impact.

The position of NV. NIGM's position was made even more difficult by the fact that the private power generation company in Bandung, Gemeenschpplijk Electriciteit Bedrif Voor Bandoeng (GEBEO), was beginning to expand. GEBEO was not only monopolized by the government, but also reached out to the wider community. Until the public considers the construction of a gas plant is not something that should take precedence (Het nieuws van den dag voor Nederlandsch-Indie?, April 10, 1919).

After going through various obstacles, NV. NIGM was finally able to convince the community that gas would be very beneficial for their lives. Because apart from lighting, there are other things that electricity cannot do. How can people turn on their stoves and heaters at home at a reduced cost, other than using gas.

After the building had been constructed and the pipeline installed, Gasfabriek was ready for operation. The fabriek, which was located close to the railroad tracks in Kiaratjondong, was finally inaugurated and began operating on February 17, 1921 (De Preanger-bode, July 25, 1922).

Gas Negara Building on Jalan Braga, Bandung. (Photo: Djiwadjaman Collection)
Gas Negara Building on Jalan Braga, Bandung. (Photo: Djiwadjaman Collection)

NV. NIGM Service Office on Braga Street Established

After going through various obstacles, the establishment of the Gasfabriek in Bandung was never in vain. When petitioned several times and always rejected by the people of Bandung, not just public facilities such as roads, gas can now be enjoyed by housewives. They can smile from ear to ear when they can easily cook their meals in the kitchen with gas.

Since its establishment on February 17, 1921, the gas plant has served government agencies, households, and even some companies and public facilities that are highly dependent on gas fuel. Hospitals, hotels, bakeries, restaurants, to name a few, can't seem to escape their dependence on gas.

Due to the increasing demand, NV. NIGM felt the need to establish a service office, which would keep records of distribution and receive payments from citizens.  So, a beautiful building with wide windows on Jalan Braga became theirs.

Herr Heutermann, leader of NV. NIGM, gave a speech thanking the citizens and announcing their achievements so far. Glasses raised, music playing, the building was inaugurated on the evening of September 4, 1928 (De koerier, 5-9-1928).

* Translated from this article by Khumaira Birru Al Walidain.

Editor: Iman Herdiana