NAIROBI, March 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
E nvironmentalists seeking to halt a 1,000 megawatt (MW)
coal-fired power plant on Kenya's unspoilt northern coast are
pinning their hopes on a court hearing later this month,
following its approval by the energy industry regulator.
Save Lamu, a local rights group, filed a case in November to
block Amu Power Company's energy project, which the campaigners
say will adversely impact the fragile ecosystem around Lamu, a
United Nations World Heritage Site.
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) overruled objections
to the plant last month, saying it was satisfied all
environmental concerns would be handled adequately.
"We are dismayed the energy commission could do this at a
time when we have pending court matters with Amu Power," Walid
Ahmed, a Lamu activist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The whole world is worried about global warming and climate
change. It can't be these things do not matter for Lamu."
In the Paris climate deal, Kenya promised to cut its carbon
emissions 30 percent by 2030.
"The coal plant may significantly dent this ambition," said
Omar Mohamed Elmawi, Save Lamu's national liaison officer.
Save Lamu's case at the National Environment Tribunal will
be heard on March 22 and 23, he said.
Lamu is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in
east Africa. Tourism is a mainstay of the local economy with
visitors enjoying its pristine white beaches, annual festivals
and narrow, winding streets.
Environmentalists say effluent from the plant will pollute
the sea, killing marine life, coral reefs and mangroves that
locals depend on.
The $2 billion plant is part of a plan to more than double
Kenya's electricity generating capacity to about 6,700 MW by
2017, providing power for industries and much needed jobs in a
country where one in five young people are unemployed.
Amu Power was initially expected to begin construction of
the plant in December 2015.
Critics argue the plant is unnecessary as Kenya already
produces enough power for its 42 million people.
"We can meet the increased electricity demand of around six
percent per annum and are on schedule to meet even higher demand
in the future," said Robert Shaw, a Nairobi-based public policy
and economic analyst.
Kenyan businesses regularly complain that power cuts - due
to the country's ageing grid - and unreliable supplies make them
uncompetitive and hurt growth.
The problem is poor maintenance, not insufficient supply,
(Reporting by Daniel Wesangula; Editing by Katy Migiro and
Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate
change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)