Kenya court blocks East Africa’s first coal plant

In this file photo taken on June 18, 2019 a green turtle hatchling crawls towards the ocean after emerging from a nest on the beach at Manda island, one of four main island's of the Lamu archipelago where life has changed little over the centuries in this part of Kenya's north coast, however residents fear their pristine environment will soon be blighted by a coal-fired power station spewing noxious gases. Picture: TONY KARUMBA / AFP

In this file photo taken on June 18, 2019 a green turtle hatchling crawls towards the ocean after emerging from a nest on the beach at Manda island, one of four main island's of the Lamu archipelago where life has changed little over the centuries in this part of Kenya's north coast, however residents fear their pristine environment will soon be blighted by a coal-fired power station spewing noxious gases. Picture: TONY KARUMBA / AFP

Amu Power has to re-conduct a study of the plant’s impact on Lamu, an Indian Ocean tourist haunt that includes a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its environment.

Kenya’s environment court blocked on Wednesday the construction of a coal plant along the country’s idyllic coastline in a move hailed as a “big victory” by those waging a years-long fight against the project.

Judge Mohammed Balala “set aside” an earlier decision granting a licence to developers Amu Power, who wanted to build East Africa’s first-ever coal-fired power plant near the Lamu archipelago.

Activists cheered and embraced in the National Environmental Tribunal in Nairobi as the order was given, halting the $2 billion (1.7 billion euros) fossil-fuel project championed by the Kenyan government from proceeding.

Judge Balala ordered Amu Power to re-conduct an environmental assessment of the plant’s impact on Lamu, an Indian Ocean tourist haunt that includes a UNESCO World Heritage site and boasts vibrant marine life.

The company was given 30 days in which to appeal.

The tribunal also ruled that the public had been inadequately consulted about the initiative, which has been in the planning stages for about six years and resisted along the way by activists and local communities.

“Justice is served at last,” said Omar Elmawi, campaign coordinator from the deCOALonize movement.

The government says the project — a joint venture between a Kenyan firm and Gulf Energy — will help secure energy needs and spur growth in the region’s most dynamic economy. Construction was to be carried out by China Power Global.

But campaigners argue the scheme is costly, damaging and out of kilter with the global switch towards renewables, which are safer and increasingly cheaper.

This month scores protested in the streets of Nairobi against the project, the bulk of which is being financed by China, and has also raised concerns over Kenya’s rising debts.

“This is a big victory, this is a big day for Lamu people, it’s big day for Kenya, it’s a big day for Africa and it’s a big day for the world,” said Mohamed Athman, a member of the Save Lamu activist group.

Experts also raised issues with the project, with some independent studies warning power generated at the plant would be far costlier than anticipated.

The station was to burn coal imported from South Africa, and would have been the first country in the region to establish such a fossil fuel plant.

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