C: Save Lamu
C: Save Lamu

A senior Kenyan Diplomat is reported to have confirmed that a highly controversial coal plant will be built near Lamu, the UNESCO World Heritage Island off the northern Kenyan Coast, despite widespread international and local opposition.

Speaking at an energy summit in Johannesburg, Kenya’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Jean Kamau, confirmed the power station would be built, according to news reports.

A spokesperson for the Kenyan electricity power company, KenGen, who was also at the conferewnce is also reported to have said: “The coal plan in Lamu is on course. And we are best placed to decide how to use our own natural resources. We are working with two companies to develop the mines.” Their remarks echo earlier sentiments said this month by the Kenyan Energy Minster, Joseph Njoroge, that the plant will go ahead.

If this is the case, it will be met with widespread international and local opposition. The EU and numerous local, national and international environmental and community groups are all opposed to the plant, as are some senior Kenyan civil servants and politicians.

It also seems to suggest that a lawsuit by a local group Save Lamu, filed in November 2016 in Kenya’s National Environmental Tribunal, which the New York Times reported yesterday had stopped construction, has not been successful, or the plant’s proponents are carrying on regardless.

The opposition against the plant is widespread. Just last month the European Union advised Kenya to drop plans to build the huge 1,050 megawatt (MW) coal-fired plant. It also throws into confusion the result of an ongoing court case against the plant, which has so far stopped construction.

The EU Ambassador to Kenya, Stefano Dejak, said “Coal has fallen out of favour in the modern market, why would Kenya want to go down that route?” He urged Kenya to focus on new geothermal, wind and solar plants, instead.

And many will point the finger of blame building the dirty power station to China, which is helping fund and build the plant. Yesterday the New York Times ran an article entitled: “Why Build Kenya’s First Coal Plant? Hint: Think China.”

As the Times outlines: “The plan embodies a contradiction of Chinese global climate leadership: The country’s huge coal sector is turning outward in search of new markets as coal projects contract at home. A Chinese multinational is tapped to build the $2 billion, 975-acre project, and a Chinese bank is helping to finance it. The project is among hundreds of coal-fired power plants that Chinese companies are helping to build or finance around the world.”

Another critic of the scheme is Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program, who is based in Nairobi: He told the Times: “I see no reason for them to do it. They should invest heavily in hydro, solar, wind. They are already, but they could do even more.”

The Environment Secretary at the Kenyan Environment Ministry, Alice Akinyi Kaudia, also argues that plant is “counterproductive” to her country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions under the UN Paris agreement.

Writing in the Conversation last year, David Obura, the Director of CORDIO (Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean), a Kenyan non-profit research organisation, argued that the plant should not go ahead due to its toxic emissions, toxic waste and climatic impact. He warned it might be Kenya’s single largest pollution source, if built.

The economics do not stack up either. Another article in the Conversation by Erik Nordman, an Associate Professor, Grand Valley State University, argues: “The total cost to society of coal-fired electricity from the Lamu facility is … at least 40% higher than the market price which ignores the human health and environmental effects of pollution. Lower cost options”. He pointed out that there “are lower cost options for Kenya to meet its electricity goals.”

He continued: “The combination of increasing global concern of climate change and the dropping costs of zero-carbon energy technologies presents a risk that the Lamu coal plant could become a stranded asset.”

Meanwhile Save Lamu, continue to fight the plans. They posted on their Facebook account last month: “As Lamu people we have the power to stop the deadly proposed coal plant or perish together as fools #deCOALonize together.”