EDITORIAL: Kenya must formulate clear coal energy policy

Environmental activists demonstrate in Nairobi against construction of a coal power plant in Lamu. FILE PHOTO | NMG Kenya’s effort to tap coal energy is on focus again after the African Development Bank (AfBD) made a U-turn on its initial commitment to provide project financing guarantee for the Lamu plant.

The AfDB, which previously indicated that the project’s life cycle represented a viable balance between economic, environmental and social considerations, may have yielded to sustained pressure from “green activists.”

The activists had on June 25 argued their case successfully before the National Environment Tribunal to have the licence granted to Amu Power Company revoked on grounds that that locals were not involved in the environmental assessment.

Despite these setbacks, both the Energy ministry and Amu Power are categorical that the project will proceed to its conclusion. And there in the ensuing artificial dichotomy lies the problem.

The ministry and Amu Power reckon the power plant is unstoppable because Americans and Chinese are willing to finance it.

Moreover, Amu has a 25-year power purchase agreement with Kenya Power through which the electricity consumers must part with Sh36 billion in annual capacity charges even if no power is generated.

In short, the stakes are very high. We are in an unenviable position where we are dammed if we reject the coal power plant over pollution concerns and doomed if we accept it.

Given that Kenya has vast deposits of coal in areas such as Lamu and Kitui, it is important that State climbs down from the ivory tower for egalitarian engagement with all stakeholders for the sake of coming up with a clear policy.

For starters, the heavily polluting coal is one of the energy sources that Kenya initially opted for in its race to generate 5,000 megawatts of electricity to power its Vision 2030. That implies that some investors may have made long-term commitments and Kenya is apparently not keen to disappoint them.

But latest audits have since indicated that the country does not need that huge pool of installed power, and that renewable sources such as geothermal, wind and solar can easily meet our consumption demand in the near term.

Environmentalists questioned the sincerity of countries such as China and US which have significantly scaled down coal-based electricity production in their economies yet still keen to support such investments in Africa.

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