After granting a license to foreign contractors for the establishment of a coal power plant near the coastal town of Lamu in 2015, the Kenyan government might need to reconsider the potential impacts and viability of the project before construction.
Prior to last month, the scheme to build one of East Africa’s first coal plants was in motion but following several cases of opposition including campaigns, judges at the National Environmental Tribunal in Kenya put a pause to the project. According to the BBC, officials failed to conduct a thorough assessment of the plant’s impact on Lamu.
In what has attracted international bodies such as the United Nations, the argument against the proposed Lamu coal plant hinges on three critical points. One, a coal plant will have more environmental impacts on air and marine ecology than the East African country can cater for.
The mining, combustion, transport and waste storage on a coal plantation might be too toxic for inhabitants. A report on the potential effects of the plant by Green Space projects that there will be 20 low birth weights per year due to plant pollution and 1600 premature deaths.
Also on the ecological effects, the Chinese-backed project, which lacks sufficient means to curb the emission of toxic coal ash, will put thousands of farmers and fishermen out of jobs. Ultimately, this will be a big threat to Kenya’s ecosystem.
Secondly, the coal plant will leave the country choosing between infrastructure and conservation/tourism. The chosen site, Lamu, is a small county in Kenya’s northern area that serves as a World Heritage site as well as a tourist attraction.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee recently held a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan on the threat of large-scale infrastructure projects to Kenya’s Lamu Old Town and in order to protect the town’s heritage status demanded a halt to the plant’s construction. Moreover, going ahead with the project would be a blow to Kenya’s multibillion-dollar tourism potential the EastAfrican writes.
And lastly, in terms of viability, the proposed Lamu coal plant is a totally avoidable evil. In fact, the project is an example of the costly licensing system – Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) – the government is looking to avoid in favour of an auctioning system which was announced late last month.
Approved by the government after being reportedly lobbied, the project which costs $2 billion has been denounced by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEFA) as a “costly error.”
“Building the proposed Lamu coal plant in Kenya, a three-unit, 981 MW facility, would be a costly error for the country, locking it into a 25-year PPA that would force electricity consumers to pay more than $9 billion, even if Lamu doesn’t generate any power, as long as it is available for dispatch,” the United States-based firm explained.
Furthermore, the existing PPA would force Kenya to pay at least $360 million in capacity charges every year, even if no power is generated at the plant. The coal plant will substantially add to the excess power capacity in Kenya, pushing it to more than 1,300MW if it commences operation in 2024, which consumers must pay for without using.
Approved by President Uhuru Kenyatta in March, Kenya’s Energy Act 2019 brings economically sustainable reforms to the energy sector such as a new investment system and better focus on renewable energy. Kenya already takes the lead in Africa with an 85 per cent renewable energy base. Thus, moving forward projects like the Lamu coal power plant is an unnecessary evil, economically unviable and a threat to the quality of life for the people. The government should do well to avoid it.