The decision by the National Environment Tribunal (Net) to revoke Amu Power Company’s licence to build the Lamu Coal Power Plant is welcome. It shows the Net took into account all the environmental arguments that were overwhelmingly against the project, and in the face of State and other pressures. That also shows some of our independent institutions are, at least, growing roots.
I attended several of the hearings and was struck by how damaging such a project would be. I cringed in disbelief when a renowned international air expert said the air pollution would stretch as far as Voi, which is quite a distance away. I was equally shocked when another expert, on water pollution, described how marine life would be decimated or maimed for miles around.
Combined, the health, welfare and livelihood of the region would be damaged and stunted. Health facilities would have a surfeit of patients with these environment-related maladies.
But it is important to urge a cautionary stance because one important battle has been won but the overall war against the project has still some way to go. Yes, the project has been halted. However, the proponents have been told to undertake a new environmental and social impact assessment (Esia) as the previous one was flawed and inadequate. A fresh Esia licence would be highly unlikely.
The various lobbies must remain hawk-eyed on the latter. The reputation of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) is a very mixed one and this particular Esia is one of several examples.
If I were to advise the proponents of this project, I would say accept the ruling and call it a day — as a new, much more thorough and professional Esia would almost certainly deny them another licence.
Again, from whichever angle one looks at this proposal, it is a veritable white elephant with little or no redeeming features. Take job creation, which Amu Power CEO Cyrus Kirima keeps trotting out. Yes, it would create jobs. But the project would blight two of the region’s biggest employers: Tourism and fishing. And also agriculture.
Lamu is one of Kenya’s prime tourism gems and should be regarded as sacred. The direct and indirect employment opportunities it creates far outnumber what would be got from the coal plant, and many people would become destitute.
Mr Kirima’s jobs mantra sounds bogus when put in the perspective of the overall employment picture. Ditto his words about improving the lives of the local communities. It rings hollow. Lamu residents would see a major cut in their standards of living, quality of life and overall opportunities
Like the SGR, the terms and conditions of such a project require inordinate quantities of Chinese input, not least in terms of labour. And the needed skilled labour may well come from outside Lamu as it is unlikely to be available locally.
I would also advise Mr Kirima to take special note of the change in Chinese policy of such infrastructural projects. A revised due diligence by the Chinese lenders would show that this project is not viable, just as with the SGR project from Duka Moja to Kisumu.
The reasons are very simple and largely twofold. First the power generated would have to be transmitted for vast distances as local demand requires only a fraction of what would be produced. That would require costly transmission lines. Add to that the cost of constructing the plant, generating and transmitting the power and importing the coal.
Lastly, Kenya does not need extra power. We have enough coming on stream to accommodate our energy demands for the next 12 years or more. Revised government projections show this. Why dirty coal energy when we have a clean energy mix of hydro, geothermal and wind and little pockets of solar on the way?
There is no compelling argument for this project as it fails virtually every test, including the commercial one. It is time the Chinese lenders, the government, Centum and the financiers buried this white elephant once and for all.
Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic analyst. [email protected]