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Open letter to the President: Please stop coal plant

Dear Mr President,

I write to you as a proud Kenyan, but one greatly concerned for our future. In particular I write to ask why you are permitting Amu power to build a coal power plant in Lamu?

Kenya Vision 2030 clearly states its objective is to help transform the country into a “newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment (emphasis added).”

In 2008, when Kenya Vision 2013 was launched, coal may have seemed a cheap source of energy. But we are a decade on and technological advances in renewable energy options have made them cheaper today. Kenya should move with the times and employ sources of energy which are not only economically viable, but environmentally responsible.

A coal plant in an area with no coal is neither viable or responsible. Importing coal all the way from South Africa makes no sense. For starters, we will have no price guarantees and place our energy dependence on a foreign country.

Mr President, Kenya is endowed with many green energy options. The cost of renewable energy is now falling so fast that it should be a consistently cheaper source of electricity generation than traditional fossil fuels within just a few years, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). This being the case, why would Kenya go in reverse and entertain coal when we have cheaper and cleaner options?

The director general of IRENA, Adnan Amin, stated, “Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now – overwhelmingly – a smart economic one…We expect the transition to gather further momentum around the world in 2018.”

The cost of $2.3 billion (Sh231 billion) to build the coal plant and transmission lines is a massive amount of money. Surely these funds could build numerous clean power plants across the country in areas that truly require the power? For example, Swaziland is building a 100MW solar power plant for under $185 million (Sh18.6 billion). Kenya could build 10 solar power plants of 100MW for the same price as one old technology coal power plant. We would not have to spend $300 million (Sh30.2 billion) on transmission lines to run over 500km to Nairobi. Mr President, imagine what other projects these millions saved could finance!

Some argue it is not the government paying, but private investors. However, the only reason Centum, Gulf energy, and GE are investing is because your government has given guarantees to the investors which will be shouldered by all KPLC customers. The people of Kenya will pay these investors whether they consume the power or not through capacity charges levied to the tune of $30 million (Sh3 billion) a month (Hindpal Jabbal ex-Chairman ERC of Kenya). Mr President, imagine what we could build in terms of power generation capacity and other required infrastructure with $30 million (Sh3 billion) every month?

Kenya has many responsible options to supply the power we need to grow. Geothermal untapped estimates of 10,000MW, as well as solar and wind. Kenya should continue to lead the way as a renewable energy fired economy.

We should be proud in 2030 by showing we achieved the vision of 2030. Your legacy, Mr President, should not include an old, rusting coal plant in Lamu to remind us of the white elephant it will become if built. You have the power to stop this clearly flawed project and make a real difference to Kenya’s future.

I pray for Kenya that you make the right decision.

By Stuart Heard

This article first appeared in Star Newspaper