Ideas & Debate

Lamu coal plant a threat to Kenya green economy


Lamu residents during demonstrations in Lamu town over the Sh 200 billion Coal plant on December 2, 2016. file photo | nmg

Kenya has taken several steps towards a green economy and developed a strategy that seeks to consolidate, scale up and embed green energy growth initiatives in national development goals. The Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan (GESIP) provides the overall policy framework to facilitate a transition to a green economy and outlines the need to mainstream and align green economy initiatives across the economic, social and environmental spheres.

In addition, Kenya has taken a significant step in developing a National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS) and action plan in the recognition that climate change is a threat to national development.

This strategy has presented evidence on climate change and associated impacts and proposes a concerted programme of activities and actions to reduce the emission of Green House Gases (GHGs), combat such impacts and provides an enabling implementation framework.

The energy sector in Kenya poses a particular challenge and yet present great opportunities for green growth. Indeed, fossil fuels will continue to dominate energy supply for some time simply because economies, societies and infrastructure have evolved around them, and due to the fact that innovation and change take time and investment. 

Nevertheless, renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal need to be arrayed and enhanced on a scale equivalent to the industrial revolution and per Kenya’s commitment towards transiting to green economy. Without decisive action, energy-related emissions of carbon-dioxide will double by 2050.

Kenya has promising potential for power generation from renewable energy sources. Abundant solar, hydro, wind, biomass and geothermal resources led the government to seek the expansion of renewable energy generation to central and rural areas.

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With a high insolation rates, of an average of 5-7 peak sunshine hours and average daily insolation of 4-6 kWh/m2, Kenya has a total estimated photovoltaic installations potential of 23,046 TWh/year (terawatt hour/year). Thanks to her topography, Kenya has some excellent wind regime areas, with a potential output of approximately 22,476 TWh/year depending on the turbine CF. Conservative estimates suggest geothermal potential in the Kenyan Rift at 2,000 MW, whereas the total national potential is put at between 7,000 and 10,000MW.

The greatest challenge for Kenya’s transition to green economy will be political and economic interest attached to brown economy pathway against social and environmental gains associated with green economy. For instance, the proposed Lamu coal power generation will be a big setback to government’s commitment to green economy and renewable energy development. In fact, Kenya ratified the Paris Agreement on international climate change approach in which nations committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The Lamu coal plant scuttles this commitment and its effects will not only adversely affect the environment but also the tourism industry of which Lamu town is globally renown.

The major rationale that Kenya has committed to green growth and the decision to generate power from coal compromises her own commitment and poses a great threat to environment, human health and climate change. Furthermore, on critical review, the EIA study for the coal plant had major inadequacies ranging from inaccurate definition of the project scope, inadequate analysis of environmental impacts, insufficient technological options analysis and subsequently inadequate mitigation measures.

Granting of the EIA licence by Nema was a major error and a negation of the principle of public participation as enshrined in the Constitution. It was a case of an agency mandated to enhance environmental protection in Kenya giving in to economic and political interests, a mirror opposite of its mandate.

This is contrary to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment Judi Wakhungu who recently stated that coal is ‘dirty’ and there is nothing like ‘clean coal’. Nema issued an EIA licence yet it is under the environment Cabinet Secretary’s docket.

The huge investment on the proposed coal power plant under the private-public partnership should be directed to renewable energy investments such as solar, wind or geothermal, for which Kenya has a great potential.

Global economies like the UK are planning to close all coal powered plants by 2025. Why should Kenya go where others are coming from? It is critical for Kenya to be energy-secure to support development and economic growth but not by investing in coal rather than harnessing other green energy sources for sustainable development.