by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – EAST Africa’s largest economy – Kenya’s first coal-fired plant is set to bring electricity to an area of high unemployment and puts the country at the table for a global alliance on fossil fuels.
Kenya is to go ahead with a coal-fired power station near the port town of Lamu, 250 kilometres north-east of Mombasa.
The plan has met with opposition from locals and the tourist industry who say pollution will affect the area. And over the past year and two elections, the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta has been largely quiet about the project.
Global NGOs and environmental groups have lobbied to stop the deal and the World Bank and International International Monetary Fund (IMF) refuse to finance anything using coal.
Those supporting the generator claim villagers in the area were paid byngreen activists in Europe and the US to stage protests.
But speaking at an energy summit in Johannesburg, Simon Ngure of local power giant KenGen said Lamu was on track.
“The coal plan in Lamu is on course,” he said. “And we are best placed to decide how to use our own natural resources. We are working with two companies to develop the mines.”
Kenya’s high commissioner to South Africa, Jean Kamau, who was at the same event, confirmed that the power station would be built.
Kenya has an estimated one billion tons of coal east of Nairobi but has relied on dam turbines and thermal heat from the Great Rift Valley.
However electricity is notoriously unreliable in rural areas.
A wind farm on Lake Turkana near the border with Ethiopia is yet to have its output linked to pylons and on to the cities.
KenGen is part-owned by the Kenya government and produces the bulk of the country’s kilowatts.
Tanzania recently opened its first coal-powered plant near the border with Mozambique and has plans for more across the country.
Mr Kamau said lack of electricity went to the heart of poverty because, without industry, there was little chance of employment.
“We have got to put money into the hands of people, otherwise we will never stop poverty,” he said. “But to start there must be electricity.”
Kenya’s decision puts it in line for a place in a proposed clean-coal alliance, a network of countries including India, South Africa, Australia, Nigeria and the United States who will share technology on how to burn coal with less smoke, and capture the remaining gas for sale as a byproduct.
While Kenya’s own mines are being developed, coal for Lamu will be supplemented with stocks from South Africa.