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Opinion: Does Africa really need coal power plants?

Approximate reading time: 4 minutes

Lobbyists the world over have consistently opposed coal power production saying it is unclean and unsafe with disadvantages outweighing benefits.

However, it seems that Africa is on a roll authorising coal plants to meet the power deficit on the continent. This is despite the huge potential that Africa has in producing clean energy.

For instance, the Congo River has the capacity to power the entire continent if the resource is well utilised. Other resources that have yet to be fully exploited include wind and solar which are readily available on the entire continent.

Sendou coal-fired power plant project

Despite the opposition to coal power, the African Development Bank (AfDB) GroupBoard of Directors has approved the recommendations of the Independent Review Mechanism to bring the Sendou coal-fired power plant project in Senegal into compliance with Bank policies and procedures.

The compliance review report was approved with a mitigation action plan prepared by the Bank’s management.

The Board’s decision will trigger the process of resolving the main concerns raised by the complainants that the Sendou power plant will have negative impacts and consequences on their environments and their lives.

The IRM will monitor the implementation of the Action Plan and report progress to the Board annually.

The Sendou Coal Power Plant project was approved by the AfDB Board of Directors on 25 November 2009.

AfDB loans for Sendou Coal Power Plant project

The senior loan was for Euro 49, 392,473, with a total project cost of Euro 164,610,732.

The project is a public private partnership initiative, which is also co-financed by Banque Ouest Africaine de Developpement (BOAD), CBAO Senegal (a subsidiary of Attijariwafa Bank – Morocco) and the Netherlands Development Bank (Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V. (FMO).

The Project started producing power in November, 2018 and it is expected to generate 925 GWh of electricity a year over a period of 25 years.

The plant may be converted to run on natural gas once domestic gas is available.

Senegal was planning to use the coal power as a stop gap measure before its offshore gas fields come online.

The country plans to increase the role of gas in its power mix, upgrading Sendou which is Senegal’s largest Independent Power Producer (IPP) project.

Opposition to coal power and plants

Coal power has been met with opposition in countries like Kenya where the Lamu coal power plant has not sat well among locals and activists.

The project in Lamu conflicts with the area being a UNESCO heritage site and a major tourist attraction.

The Lamu plant which is built through a joint Kenyan-Chinese venture will in the initial stages rely on combustible imports from South Africa. This, environmentalists say, will damage natural and marine resources.

In addition, farmers and fishermen in Lamu will have their livelihoods destroyed.

Lamu plant faces bleak future

The Sh200b Lamu coal plant faces a bleak future due to completed renewable energy projects that are coming online in Kenya.

Kenya’s National Electrification Strategy released in December 2018 outlays an ambitious 3,000 megawatts (MW) in installed capacity over the next five years.

In a partnership with the World Bank, the plan leverages on a combination of financing options including public debt and concessionary loans.

Going by the government’s indication, the Lamu coal-fired power plant will take longer to come online.

The coal plant is developed by Gulf Energy and Centum partnering with General Electric and the Investment and Power Construction Corporation of China.

Electricity supply outstripping demand

Kenya’s Ministry of Energy says that despite a power purchasing agreement between Amu Power and Kenya Power having already been signed, the commissioning of the power plant is unlikely to materialise before 2022.

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has advised be slow down of the controversial Lamu coal power plant, the nuclear power plant and some geothermal plants planned by KenGen and other independent power producers.

This was advised by supply outstripping demand since the growing electricity generation will push up power costs forcing consumers to pay for idle power plants.

Coal power producers in Africa

In South Africa, Life After Coal and Greenpeace Africa have slammed the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity (IRP) saying that if the Department of Energy were to publish the least-cost plan that civil society organisations have been demanding, it would not include any new coal.

The CSOs argue that allowing the two new coal plants contemplated by the draft IRP would be disastrous for water resources, air quality, health, land and the climate.

Opposition to coal power continues with opponents saying there are better and cleaner options to coal. Will Africa heed?

Currently, Africa has 8 active coal power plants. Botswana has the highest number of active plants at 4 while Morocco and South Africa have two each.

Source: The Exchange

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