Besides politics, never before has a matter elicited so much emotion and opposition in the county as the proposed 1050MW initiative.
Locals and a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have petitioned the Government to stop the construction of the Lamu coal plant, citing harmful environmental effects.
The power plant, which will be located at Kwasasi, Lamu County, some 21km from Lamu town, will be operated by a private company, Amu Power, which is owned by two Kenyan companies; Gulf Energy and Centum.
The first of its kind in East Africa, the project has faced opposition from a large number of Lamu residents due to its potential environmental and health impact.
While the project has received support from the Jubilee government, which only last month signed a controversial deal with China, the locals through Save Lamu, an environmental NGO, oppose it.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, while signing the Sh206 billion agreement between China Power Global and Amu Power in May this year, said the coal plant was incorporated as part of the LAPSSET corridor.
During the signing witnessed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Keter was optimistic that the mega plant would be up and running in two years.
“It is one of the biggest plans under the public-private partnership framework. Once complete, the plant is expected to inject 1050MW into the power grid and will contribute to a stable power supply,” he said.
According to Keter, the plant’s biggest selling point is that it would provide a cheap source of power. “We’re saving a lot in terms of kWh,” the CS added.
But an appeal lodged at the National Environmental Tribunal by Save Lamu and others against the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Amu Power Company Ltd (the project developer) has opposed the Environmental Impact Assessment Licence issued by NEMA dated September 7, 2016.
The appeal was lodged in November 2016 and is currently at the hearing stage and several witnesses have already testified.
Through Save Lamu, the locals argue that the plant will pollute their environment and render hundreds of fishermen who fish in the waters near the plant jobless due to the heavy pollution. They also argue that their health will be affected due to air pollution.
“The Lamu Coal Mine project would emit five to 10 times more air pollution as new coal plants are allowed to emit in China,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, an air pollution expert at Green Peace, who testified that the Lamu Coal power project emission limits are lax compared to the best practice.
The project, he said, would result in approximately 1,600 premature deaths if the plant becomes operational.
He argues that the coal project is unfriendly to the environment and should not be an option when other energy sources such as solar have not been fully exploited.
The matter is before the National Environmental Tribunal, which is chaired by Jane Dwasi.
Other members of the tribunal include Bahati Mwamuye, Christine Kipsang, Waithaka Ngaruiya, Mohammed Balala and Tom Ojienda.
Save Lamu, which appealed against thea decision by NEMA to grant AMU Power a licence for coal mining, has six appellants including Somo M Somo, the chairman of Lamu County Beach Management Unit (Lamu BMU), Raya Famau Ahmed, Mohammed Mbwana, Jamal Ahmed Ali, and Abubakar Mohammed Twalib, all residents of Lamu.
Lamu BMU comprises those who depend on marine resources for a living including fishermen, boat owners, mangrove cutters and boat operators.
There are 37 BMUs in Lamu, representing 37 landing sites and 4,500 members. The area of operation for the fishermen include the coastline of Lamu County from the island through the Mkanda Channel, to Pae, Kwasasi, Magogoni, around Pate and Manda Islands.
The six appellants want the decision to grant an Environmental Impact Assessment Licence to be set aside on the basis that it is “wholly unreasonable and therefore the licence was issued in violation of the Constitution, the Environmental Management and Coordination Act and its Regulations and the Land Act”.
Save Lamu further claims both AMU and NEMA had not demonstrated that the proposed project meets the viability requirements of the Constitution, the Environmental Management and Coordination Act and its Regulations and the Land Act.
They now want a new Environmental Impact Assessment Study to be conducted by NEMA in full compliance with the above cited laws, including regulations based on specific and current information, and involving all relevant stakeholders.
They have also applied that each party bears its own costs.
The tribunal has been holding its sittings in Lamu but moved to Nairobi last week. So far, most of the residents have testified before it and it has lined up energy experts who began to testify last week.
Save Lamu are represented at the tribunal by Suyianka Lempaa and Co. Advocates, whose team is led by lawyer Lempaa and Waikwa Wanyoike. AMU is represented by Githinji M and NEMA by lawyer Elias Masika.
Save Lamu witnesses Raya Ahmed Athman, David Obura, Ernie Niemi, Mark Chernaik, Lauri Myllyvirta and Hindpal Jabbal have already presented their evidence before the tribunal.
Myllyvirta, the air pollution expert at Green Peace, testified last week.
Second in the dock was Hindpal Jabbal, a former chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission, who said that the plant would have severe consequences on marine life at the Coast should the construction be allowed to go on.
The Government through NEMA is expected to respond to the claims at the far end of the tribunal hearings set for next month.