Kenya: Lamu Coal-Fired Power Plant
Communities are taking action to stop a proposed 1,050 MW coal-fired power plant on the Lamu coast in Kenya to protect their environment, culture, and livelihoods from irreversible harm.
After years of efforts by Save Lamu to document the failures to account for the social and environmental impacts of the project, on June 26, 2019, the National Environment Tribunal of Kenya found the process of awarding the license for Lamu coal plant irregular for lack of effective public participation, among other reasons. The license for the plant has been revoked.
The risks of constructing a coal plant in Lamu are grave. Lamu County is home to Lamu Old Town, a UNESCO-recognized World Heritage site. The area also hosts 70% of Kenya’s critically important coastal mangrove forests. The coal plant would result in serious air, water, and land pollution, a decline in marine resources, and destruction of internationally-recognized natural habitats.
At least 109 families have already been left without income or food security, having been displaced from their farmland without compensation. Thousands more families face a loss of land or livelihoods. Indigenous communities will lose access to critical resources that they have sustainably managed for generations. Despite these significant risks, threatened communities have not been consulted, and project proponents are ignoring their concerns.
The US$2 billion project is being developed by Amu Power, a joint enterprise of Kenyan firms Gulf Energy and Centum Investment. It has attracted, and is still seeking, significant international investment.
Given the project’s profound risks, two community organizations, Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group, have asked international investors to take immediate steps to end their participation in the Lamu coal plant. With support from Accountability Counsel and Natural Justice, on 26 April 2019, those organizations filed a complaint to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank.
The IFC is contributing to the coal plant project through three banks, which provided loans to Centum Investment after receiving IFC funds. The complainants have asked the IFC to take immediate steps to restrict these banks’ participation in the Lamu coal plant. They have also requested that the CAO conduct an investigation into the potentially disastrous project.
This complaint is a continuation of many years of work with Save Lamu to raise their communities’ concerns about the coal plant, as well as other infrastructure mega-projects planned for Lamu County. Lamu is a major hub along the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia (LAPSSET) Corridor, described by the Kenyan government as East Africa’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure project. These developments, separately and together, threaten to permanently and dramatically disrupt the unique character, culture, and environment of the entire Lamu archipelago.
“We are grieved that whatever ecological value the site has now will be permanently lost. We fear the ash will be blown by our monsoon winds and may settle on nearby houses, vegetation, and ocean. There can also be runoff of these pollutants by rain and this will contaminate both our lands and water.” — Lamu resident
If constructed, the 1,050 megawatt coal-fired power plant planned for the Lamu coastline will be the first coal plant in Kenya and the biggest in East Africa.
Local communities face devastating impacts on their health, food security, environment, cultural heritage, and livelihoods from the construction and operation of the coal plant.
Lamu County is internationally-recognized for the richness of its environment, including its marshlands, grasslands, savannahs, baobab and mangrove forests, coral reefs, beaches, and sand dunes.
The proposed 975-acre coal plant site is on the Lamu mainland, adjacent to vitally important coastal mangrove forests that protect against erosion and flooding and serve as a breeding ground and nursery habitat for various fisheries. The construction of a coal plant will destroy mangroves and require dredging the seafloor. Operation of the plant will continue the devastation. The coal plant’s cooling system will pull in huge amounts of seawater from Manda Bay, trapping marine life in the intake process. Water will be returned by this system into Manda Bay, desalinated and at a higher temperature, inflicting further damage on the delicate marine environment.
The land for the coal plant site is being compulsorily acquired from local farmers, who, years after displacement was announced, continue to face uncertainties around the extent and type of compensation and resettlement support they will receive. At least 109 farmers and their families have already been displaced by the construction of the site access road, without any consultation or compensation. Thousands of other land users, fisherpeople, and tourism operators, including indigenous and other vulnerable communities, are expected to lose their livelihoods.
“At my homestead, cashew nut trees were cut down for the road, while I was away. My farm, the road cuts down the middle of it. I wasn’t around. It was off-season. … They came with machines. They came here and destroyed our trees. I wasn’t consulted at all. To date, I have not been informed of anything at all. No sort of communications. Here we are. This has left me wondering, are we baboons, animals, or are we humans? It would even be better to be an animal than to be treated like this.” – A Kwasasi farmer displaced by the site access road
The proposed site for the coal plant is approximately 20 km north of Lamu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized as the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. It is a small, conservative, and preserved society, maintaining its traditional architecture and its distinct social, cultural, and religious functions up to the present day. This distinct culture faces major threats from population and development pressures, loss of traditional livelihoods and environmental degradation.
Lamu is also home to many indigenous communities who have carved out distinctive livelihoods over the centuries utilizing the rich and diverse marine, coastal, forest, and grassland environments of the archipelago. These communities face displacement from the project site, adverse impacts on their livelihoods and cultural heritage, and loss of access to traditional land and resources in and around the project site. Impacts from the coal plant will exacerbate losses already suffered as a result of other LAPSSET developments, including the Lamu port.
Like all other coal plants, the Lamu coal plant will emit many chemicals and particulates that are linked to severe health and environmental impacts. In addition to the human and environmental toll, the delicate coal stone buildings found in Lamu Old Town, and elsewhere in Lamu, will be particularly vulnerable to acid rain and other air pollution caused by the coal plant. Toxic ash waste will be stored in a dry ash yard, where communities fear it will be at risk of catastrophic destabilization during monsoon season.
Serious doubts also remain about the necessity and economic viability of this project, which will lock the country into a 25-year power purchase agreement, forcing Kenyan electricity consumers to pay more than $9 billion even if the coal plant does not generate any power.
“There is … a potential of not only marginalizing the community but total disruption of a tradition and all sustaining traditional lifestyle developed and nurtured over millennia with the attendant loss of their heritage.” – Heritage Impact Assessment, cited by UNESCO
Despite the significant risks, project developers have not consulted threatened communities and have ignored their concerns for years. Information provided in the few community meetings that were held was superficial, inaccessible, inaccurate and unbalanced. Subsequent project documents failed to genuinely respond to any of the comments and concerns that were expressed during those earlier community meetings.
Some affected groups, including the farmers displaced by the site access road, were not consulted at all. And shockingly, a pattern of intimidation by government officials has impeded attempts by local groups to hold information sessions to engage and discuss project impacts as a community.
Communities are now taking action to raise their concerns to the investors in the coal plant, including the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). Despite pledging to avoid new investments in coal projects, the IFC is contributing to this project through three financial sector clients: the Co-operative Bank of Kenya, FirstRand Bank, and Kenya Commercial Bank. Each of these banks provided loans to Centum Investment, one of the coal plant’s developers, after receiving IFC funds.
On 26 April 2019, two community groups, Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group, filed a complaint to the IFC’s accountability office to voice their concerns about serious violations of the IFC’s Performance Standards in the development of the proposed coal plant.
Given the project’s profound risks, the groups have asked the IFC to take immediate steps to restrict their clients’ participation in the Lamu coal plant. They have also requested that the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) – the IFC’s accountability office – conduct an investigation into the potentially disastrous project. The complaint was filed with support from Accountability Counsel and Natural Justice.
“It is problematic for the IFC to be found investing in financial intermediaries that are funding the Lamu coal plant project, especially given that the World Bank has pledged to divest from coal. It is very clear that the anticipated impacts from the project threaten the human rights of the communities living in the region and their environment.” – Rose Birgen, Senior Program Officer at Natural Justice
In September 2014, the government awarded the contract for the coal plant to Amu Power, a special-purpose vehicle established by Gulf Energy, a privately held Kenyan energy company, and Centum Investment, a publicly traded Kenyan investment firm.
According to an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment dated July 2016, the coal plant will include three supercritical coal-fired thermal generating units. (Despite US multinational General Electric’s May 2018 announcement that it would be providing ultra-supercritical technology to the Lamu coal plant, no updated technical assessments have been published.) The power plant will burn about 2.8 megatons (Mt) of coal per year. The facility will operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The coal plant will also require the following infrastructure:
- Limestone mining at Witu. A 2,000-acre mining concession has already been approved by local authorities. Limestone is needed for a pollution control system called wet flue gas desulfurization. The limestone will be transported by land and sea to the power plant;
- A coal receiving system including a coal berth at Lamu port, coal handling equipment and a conveyor system approximately 15 km long to transport coal from the port to stockyards;
- Two coal stockyards, with capacity for up to 420,000 metric tons of coal;
- A 400 kV substation;
- A permanent workers’ colony accommodating 250-300 persons;
- A new rail system to transport coal if Kenyan coal becomes available; and
- Associated roads, buildings and other structures.
Construction of the coal plant itself is yet to begin, although development of the site access road – and associated displacement of Kwasasi farmers – is underway. The project was stalled for many years after Save Lamu and other Lamu residents appealed the granting of the environmental licence to the project at Kenya’s National Environment Tribunal.
The proposed Lamu coal plant and its impacts can only be fully understood in the context of the LAPSSET Corridor mega-project, described by the Kenyan government as East Africa’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure project. Major components of LAPSSET to be located in Lamu include:
- A 32-berth deep sea port;
- An industrial facility near the port, including oil-refining and petrochemical factories;
- Railway, road, and highway networks connecting South Sudan and Ethiopia to the port in Lamu;
- Lamu-Lokichar crude and product oil pipelines;
- A resort city and a new airport ;
- A new Lamu metropolis on the mainland, expected to host one million residents by 2030;
- All the necessary support infrastructure for metropolis development.
These projects are closely intertwined. The LAPSSET Corridor Development Authority is the entity acquiring the land on which the Lamu coal plant is proposed to be built.
The early stages of the port construction have already required significant mangrove clearance, dredging and reclamation of land. In 2018, in litigation filed by Lamu residents including members of Save Lamu, the High Court of Kenya awarded 1.7 billion KSh as compensation to 4,700 fisherpeople affected by the Lamu port development, in recognition of failures to respect their traditional rights. The piecemeal assessment of LAPSSET-related projects has failed to fully recognize the social and environmental impacts of LAPSSET as a whole. Directly as a result of the likely negative impacts on Lamu Old Town, a World Heritage Site, UNESCO has repeatedly requested that construction of various LAPSSET-related projects be halted “in order to allow time for a full assessment of its wider direct and indirect impacts on the property and for appropriate mitigation measures to be defined and implemented.” That cumulative impact assessment is yet to be undertaken.
“We, the community of Lamu, rely on our natural resources to survive – for nourishment, shelter, healthcare, to worship in our sacred spaces, and to continue our cultural traditions. Our environment is our wealth – when our environment is healthy, we are healthy. When our environment suffers, we suffer.”
At an earlier stage, the African Development Bank (AfDB) was considering providing a partial risk guarantee covering Kenya Power and Lighting Company’s obligations under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement related to the coal plant. However, following advocacy by Save Lamu and others highlighting deficiencies in the project’s environmental and social impact assessments, that support has not yet been approved and further discussions appear to have been postponed.
In contrast to this community victory, members of Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group have tried for years to raise their concerns with other project stakeholders and relevant government authorities, with no success. In stakeholder consultation meetings, questions were not answered or were answered dismissively, with misleading information. In addition, complainants have provided comments in writing, directly to Amu Power, its shareholders (Gulf Energy and Centum), its investors (including the IFC) and relevant government authorities, and indirectly through official consultation processes. Despite these good faith attempts to engage, they have never received a substantive, detailed response to their concerns. Instead, a pattern of intimidation by government officials has impeded attempts by local groups to hold information sessions to engage and discuss project impacts as a community.
Because of the lack of responsiveness of project developers, communities are also raising their concerns directly with the project investors. While many details of the project financing remain hidden from the public, we believe that the IFC is contributing to the Lamu coal plant through three clients: the Kenya Commercial Bank, the Co-Operative Bank of Kenya and the FirstRand Bank. After receiving funds from the IFC, those banks provided financial support to Centum Investment, a co-developer of the coal plant.
On 26 April 2019, Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group, with support from Accountability Counsel and Natural Justice, filed the complaint to voice concerns about serious violations of the IFC’s Performance Standards in the development of the proposed coal plant.
The 88-page complaint details a vast number of violations of those standards, including that:
- The environmental and social impact assessments fail to analyze critical aspects of the project.
- Affected people were not adequately identified or consulted.
- Thousands of farmers, pastoralists and other land users, fisherpeople, and tourism operators, including indigenous and other vulnerable communities, are expected to be displaced, with no comprehensive resettlement or compensation plans in place.
- Pollution and biodiversity impacts have not been properly assessed or mitigated.
- The risks posed by this project to Lamu’s unique cultural heritage have been grossly underestimated.
- No real consideration has been given to other, less-polluting, energy sources or to alternative project sites.
- There has been no genuine assessment of cumulative impacts, despite the fact that Lamu is a central node along the planned LAPSSET Corridor.
- There is no broad community support for this project.
“We have plenty of renewable sources of energy in Lamu; we see the sun for 12 months. Kenya can make use of these sources to produce energy without harming our environment, the resources we depend for our livelihoods, not even our health,” – Khadija Shekuwe, Coordinator of Save Lamu
The complaint requests that the CAO independently investigates the coal plant’s compliance with the IFC’s standards – a process known as compliance review. The complaint also demands that the IFC take immediate steps to restrict its clients’ participation in this disastrous project and to review closely any new investments in the financial sector to avoid any further support for this disastrous project.
Communities are still waiting to hear whether the complaint has been found eligible by the CAO.
Together with Save Lamu, the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group, Natural Justice and other partners, we will continue to pressure investors and other key stakeholders to divest from this harmful project.
Save Lamu: a Kenya-based umbrella organization that represents over 40 organizations from Lamu, Kenya. Save Lamu’s mission is “to engage communities and stakeholders so as to ensure participatory decision-making, achieve sustainable and responsible development and preserve the environmental, social and cultural integrity of the Lamu community.”
Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group: a group of farmers whose farms were destroyed because of the construction of the access road linking Lamu Port to Kwasasi, to provide site access to the proposed Lamu coal plant. To date, the farmers have not been consulted or compensated regarding these impacts. The Group formed in 2017 in order to seek accountability and remedy for this harm.
Save Lamu wrote to the Chinese Embassy but no response was received.
Save Lamu wrote to the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China but no response was received.
Save Lamu wrote to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), providing supplementary information to their complaint.
Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group, with support from Accountability Counsel and Natural Justice, filed a complaint to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Given the profound risks of the Lamu coal-fired power plant, they are asking international investors to take immediate steps to end their participation in the project. The complaint was filed with a cover letter by Accountability Counsel as advisors, explaining why the IFC’s connections to the coal plant project are material.
Save Lamu wrote to the Chinese Embassy but no response was received.
Kwasasi Farmers wrote to the Chairperson of National Land Commission but no response was received.
Kwasasi Farmers Self Help Group wrote to Ministry of Transport but no response was received.
Accountability Counsel and Save Lamu traveled to Abidjan for the AfDB’s Civil Society Forum, where we engaged with the bank’s board members regarding continued inadequacies in the environmental and social impact assessment for the Lamu Coal Plant.
Save Lamu sent detailed comments to the African Development Bank calling attention to the many gaps and inadequacies in the environmental and social impact assessment for the Lamu Coal Plant. Days after the letter was sent, we received notice that the planned AfDB Board vote on approval of a partial risk guarantee for the project had been removed from the Board meeting agenda. It remains on hold.
Upon receipt of Save Lamu’s appeal, NET issued a stay order, halting development of the proposed coal plant during the Tribunal’s proceedings.
Save Lamu files an appeal with Kenya’s National Environmental Tribunal (NET) challenging NEMA’s decision to grant the EIA license to Amu Power for the coal plant.
Save Lamu and Natural Justice submitted an objection to Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission regarding NEMA’s EIA license for coal plant. This objection included a report by former ERC Chair, Mr. Hindpal Singh Jabbal, advising that the coal plant cannot be justified given “technical, economic, site location, social, and environmental considerations.”
NEMA granted an Environmental Impact Assessment License for the Lamu Coal Plant just days after receiving extensive comments on the proposed project during the required public comment period.
Save Lamu submited comments to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) of Kenya, critiquing the factually inaccurate and incomplete ESIA Study Report. Under Kenyan law, NEMA is the agency responsible for deciding whether or not to grant an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license for the coal plant.
Kurrent Technologies, Ltd., a consultant appointed by Amu power, completed and published an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Study Report on the proposed coal plant.
Save Lamu wrote to International Finance Corporation.
Save Lamu wrote to Amu Power but no substantive response was received.
Save Lamu responds to the AfDB, highlighting additional concerns about the Lamu Coal Plant, including major flaws in the Environmental Project Report (EPR) and the threat of imminent displacement of local communities.
Save Lamu objected to the Kenyan National Land Commission’s notice of intention to transfer land to Amu Power for the Lamu Coal Plant. The transfer would have had the effect of displacing local communities who have farmed the land for generations.
Save Lamu wrote to National Environment and Management Authority and Lamu County Land Management Board.
With Accountability Counsel’s support, Save Lamu provided a detailed critique of the EPR for the coal plant. This report failed to comprehensively assess the project’s environmental and social impacts and did not detail any mitigation strategies. It also did not constitute a full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, which AfDB policy requires.
AfDB responded to Save Lamu’s letter with an assurance that the Bank would conduct a careful review of the coal plant’s environmental and social impacts.
Accountability Counsel supported Save Lamu’s letter to AfDB Management expressing concerns about the high environmental, social, and cultural risks of the project and about the lack of community consultation and participation to date. Save Lamu requested: a comprehensive ESIA, further feasibility investigation, and more meaningful community consultations, all with the objective of securing the local community’s free, prior, and informed consent to the project.
Save Lamu subsequently met with AfDB representatives to express their concerns in person.
An Environmental Project Report was released for comment.
It was a preliminary environmental report required under Kenyan law as a step toward granting an environmental license for the project. The EPR failed to comprehensively assess environmental and social impacts and did not detail any mitigation strategies.
Save Lamu wrote to international non-government organizations requesting support for a petition to halt the construction of the proposed coal power plant.
Save Lamu wrote to the Kenyan National Environment Management Agency, the government agency responsible for issuing an environmental impact license for the project. This letter expressed communities’ initial concerns about health, safety, and environmental impacts of the coal power plant and about the inadequacy of the public information sessions.
UNESCO published a report on its Reactive Monitoring Mission to Kenya which was triggered by LAPSSET’s likely negative impact on Lamu Old Town, a World Heritage Site. The report raises specific concerns about the negative environmental and social impacts of the proposed coal plant.
For many years, local communities have been speaking out and raising concerns about the Lamu coal-fired power plant, which threatens to severely disrupt their environment, and cause devastating impacts on their health, livelihoods, food security, and cultural heritage. Lamu communities have organized themselves under collectives such as Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group to make their voices heard.
However, the lack of adequate and meaningful response from international investors of the project, including the non-responsiveness of Chinese and other financiers, has led to communities feeling increasingly frustrated and ignored.
As a result, Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group requested Accountability Counsel’s support to develop and pursue a complaint strategy targeting international investors. Accountability Counsel worked with international partner Inclusive Development International to identify obscure but critical financial links to the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Accountability Counsel also worked with community groups to document the harm Lamu communities are already experiencing, and the future harm they fear, in a detailed complaint to the IFC’s accountability office, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO). In the complaint, Save Lamu and the Kwasasi Mvunjeni Farmers Self-Help Group have asked the IFC and its clients to take immediate steps to end their participation in the Lamu coal-fired power plant. They have also requested that the CAO conduct an investigation into the potentially disastrous project. A summary of the complaint is available in English and Kiswahili.
The complaint is the continuation of many years of collaboration between Accountability Counsel and Save Lamu that has created impact on both a national and international scale. At an earlier stage, we assisted Save Lamu to form a coalition with anti-coal groups throughout Kenya: a coalition that is informing and empowering communities impacted by the coal plant and other LAPSSET developments. Our work also influenced the African Development Bank (AfDB) to delay consideration of support for the Lamu coal plant. Together with local and international partners, Accountability Counsel exposed significant flaws in the environmental and social review process for the coal plant, and we informed the AfDB’s staff, leadership, and other key investors of these deficiencies. The AfDB’s approval of a partial risk guarantee for the project remains on hold, in part because of these deficiencies in the environmental and social review process.
We will provide updates on our impact as we continue to work with Lamu communities to stop the coal-fired power plant.
- 21 June 2019 Planned coal plant blackens the mood in Kenya’s idyllic Lamu By France 24
- 13 June 2019 It’s time to scrap Lamu coal plant By Star Editor, The Star Kenya
- 11 June 2019 After SGR, Kenya’s next Sh900bn debt trap for power project By Allan Olingo, Daily Nation
- 10 June 2019 Kenya Coal Plant’s Power Could Cost 10 Times More Than Suggested, Group Says By David Herbling, Bloomberg
- 9 June 2019 When Coal Comes to Paradise By Dana Ullman, Foreign Policy
- 4 June 2019 Row over Chinese coal plant near Kenya World Heritage site of Lamu By Alastair Leithead, BBC News
- 15 August 2018 2018 Revealed Just How Ill-Prepared We Are For Climate Change By Terry Gross, NPR, with Somini Sengupta, New York Times
- 9 April 2018 At what cost will Lamu coal power plant be to Man and sea? By Jacqueline Kubania, Daily Nation
- 27 February 2018 Why Build Kenya’s First Coal Plant? Hint: Think China By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
- 26 January 2018 Lamu coal plant to cost power users Sh37bn yearly By Neville Otuki, Business Daily Africa
- 23 May 2017 Lamu port project has denied us cultural rights, fishermen tell court By Charles Lwanga, Nation Media Group
- 10 May 2017 As the World Cuts Back on Coal, a Growing Appetite in Africa By Jonathan W. Rosen, National Geographic
- 5 January 2017 Kenyans at loggerheads over coal plant at world heritage site By Daniel Wesangula, Thomson Reuters Foundation
- 28 August 2015 In Kenya, Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plant Threatens World Heritage Site By Nicole Ghio, HuffPost
- 12 July 2015 Expert says coal plant bad for health By Eunice Kilonzo & Kalume Kazungu, Daily Nation
- 1 November 2014 In Kenya, islanders on heritage site count cost of $25 billion mega-project By Jason Patinkin, The Christian Science Monitor
- 19 August 2014 Violence Imperils Kenya Port Project By Heidi Vogt, Wall Street Journal
- 15 April 2014 Kenya: Oil metropolis threatens coastal paradise By Oxpeckers
- 24 February 2014 Pastoralist aspirations versus policy in the Horn of Africa By IRIN
- 9 October 2013 Livelihood concerns as Kenya kicks off regional infrastructure project By IRIN
- 31 October 2012 Disquiet over Lamu port project By IRIN
- 5 June 2012 Group seeks new bench for Lamu Port petition Sandra Chao, Daily Nation
- 25 April 2012 Kenya Parliament pushes for faster completion of Lamu port link By Edwin Mutai, Business Daily Africa
- 15 April 2012 Toyota proposes to build Lamu to South Sudan pipeline By Giffins Omwenga, Daily Nation
From Our Partners
12 April 2018
The UN Environment Programme published an opinion article by our local partners DeCOALonize, sharing local perspectives on the feared social and environmental impacts of the Lamu Coal Plant.