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Letters

LETTERS: Why Kenya should stop investment in coal

Coal plant
Coal plant construction site in Lamu last year. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG 

It is estimated that only a third of the total Kenyan population has access to electricity. These figures are higher in the urban areas with notable reduction in the rural off-grid regions. Statistics estimate that only about 6.7 percent of the rural population in Kenya has access to electricity.

According to a World Bank report released in 2017, this places Kenya among the 20 countries with the lowest electrification rate worldwide. Access to electricity makes communities safer, helps small businesses thrive, improves agricultural production and powers essential services such as schools, communication and health.

Delivering policies that simultaneously ensure universal access to affordable energy services and protect the environment is one of the most formidable challenges facing many governments and industry in the world.

For the Kenyan government to provide the much needed electricity for the economy to thrive, there is a need for increased production especially for the rural off-grid populations.

Existing energy supply is heavily and unsustainably dependent upon hydroelectric power, and meeting the energy demands needed for progress means that Kenya must find new ways to provide crucial energy services to its people.

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The electricity mix in Kenya at the moment comprises mostly of renewable sources. However, the Ministries of Energy, insist that the recently discovered coal in Kitui and the proposed coal power plant in Lamu are expected to play a greater role in electricity production.

Mining and burning coal releases harmful pollutants into the air. These emissions fuel the climate crisis. Pollutants from coal, including mercury, fine particles and smog pose a serious threat to health and the environment. Pollution from burning coal also leads to acid rain, which kills fish and plants and damages soil.

Kenya’s economy and people’s livelihoods are highly dependent on natural resources which include fertile soils, fish and plants and nature based tourism. Damaging these factors of production means spelling doom to majority of the population that depend on them.

For instance, fishing forms a critical part of people’s livelihoods in Lamu. Developing a coal power plant in this region poses threats to the livelihoods of the Lamu people.

In addition, Lamu has a rich cultural heritage that attracts tourists to the region fetching income for the residents of this old town.

The Lamu coal plant will ruin the oldest and best preserved Swahili cultural settlements in East Africa, damaging livelihoods and the environment.

In Kitui, coal mining will result in water and air poisoning, leading to adverse effects on human health, not only for residents of Kitui but beyond. Burning fossil fuels and especially coal produces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, leading to human induced climate crisis.

Climate crisis will have adverse effects on water, crop yield, animal production as well as increase natural disasters. Considering that Kenya and specifically Kitui experiences water scarcity due to frequent droughts, Kenya cannot afford to put more pressure on the already strained water sources by mining and burning coal.

Renewable energy resources offer options for helping Kenya to meet its energy challenges. The country possess bountiful resources such as wind, solar, and geothermal for sustainable electricity generation.

Kenya’s geothermal potential is enough to meet more than three times our current energy demand. Kenya has a significant amount of annual sunlight hours with a high irradiation. The potential for wind energy is proven to be viable in various regions. Yet these resources remain largely underdeveloped.

The people of Kitui need water for irrigation. Kitui County’s topography is suitable for agricultural irrigation production systems and the irrigation potential in the county is estimated to be 11,095 hectares.

Investment in solar and wind energy sources will provide a great opportunity for the people of Kitui to improve their agricultural production through solar and wind powered irrigation channels.

The government must stop any investment in coal. Investment in Lamu coal power plant will cost Sh900 billion even if it doesn’t generate any power.

Amos Wemanya, Greenpeace Africa Campaigner.

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