Kenya is unlikely to develop its planned coal power capacity, but there is still high-level political interest in developing a coal industry. A small number of proposed plants have been effectively stalled for years. Their lack of economic viability makes unlikely the development of coal power in Kenya.
Notably, in 2019, the country’s planned coal capacity fell by nearly half due to the de facto suspension of the proposed high-profile 1050 MW Lamu coal plant, when courts invalidated the project’s environmental license and financiers withdrew their support.
Kenya’s remaining pipeline includes a tiny 25 MW proposed coal plant in Machakos, which became publicly known in August 2022 when its developers filed for an electricity license.
A 64 MW ‘captive’ (i.e. electricity produced directly for industrial use) Pokot Power Station has been stalled since it was proposed in 2015, while the associated long-delayed cement plant is finally to open in late 2023.
Newly elected President Ruto has made contradicting statements regarding coal. Since his election in August 2022 and ascension to the presidency in September, he has crafted a high profile in climate leadership and made strong statements on African climate and energy issues.
However, in November 2022, President Ruto vowed to pursue coal mining development in Kitui County, the proposed site of the long-stalled 1050 MW Kitui coal plant. This strong interest in Kitui coal mining was echoed by Ruto’s Trade Cabinet Secretary as well as a prominent Kitui government official. These remarks have been interpreted as a pro-coal signal to investors, prospectors, and government officials.
Despite climate-positive statements, Kenya has made no firm commitments to stop its pursuit of coal power. Government policy, from the Energy Act of 2019 to periodic power development plans, continue to include coal power development, and coal mining in Kitui in great detail.
President Ruto’s stated pledge to achieve 100% renewable electricity in Kenya by 2030 (from the current 92%) moves the goalpost from his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta’s pledge to meet that same goal by 2020.
In fact, over the past decade during Kenyatta’s administration, Deputy President Ruto was Kenya’s most vocal proponent of coal power: