NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 13 – The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments have expressed their desire to proceed with an electricity deal between the two countries despite environmental concerns by conservationists.
Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi said on Tuesday that the two governments had resolved to undertake independent environmental assessment studies to get a clear picture of what ecological impact the proposed project would have and the mitigation measures to take.
“After the conclusion of those reports, we believe that we will be in a position to proceed once the necessary factors have been taken into account,” said the minister.
Plans to import power from Ethiopia have been in the works for nearly four years but the process, which involves the construction of a hydropower dam on River Omo has been slowed down by concerns that doing so would not only affect the ecosystem of the area but the millions of people living in southwest Ethiopia and northern Kenya.
The Ethiopian government has envisaged that with the completion of the Gibe 3 dam which is already under construction, it would be able to export 900Megawatts (MW) of electricity to its regional neighbours including Kenya andSudan.
Civil works on the projects are done and the government is sourcing for funding to install 19 hydro-turbines and generators to enable them achieve an output 1,870MW.
Assessment studies by the Ethiopian government and the African Development Bank done prior to the construction had indicated that the project would be beneficial to the communities and improve the ecosystem.
These findings have however been disputed by many including civil society organisations and the World Bank which has declined to fund the project until the issues are resolved. The United Nations Environmental Programme has also been on record saying the construction of the dam would reduce the water levels in Lake Turkana and in effect a proposed wind power project in Northern Kenya.
The need to settle these mixed feelings is what has prompted the two governments to conduct autonomous studies to confirm or disprove the findings.
Energy Permanent Secretary Patrick Nyoike who was in Ethiopia recently said the Kenyan government was in the process of recruiting a consultant with the hope of having the reports ready by December.
“What they (Ethiopian) told us is that with or without donor support, the project will be done. If it will be done, it will be in the interest of Kenya to engage Ethiopians so that we can address any adverse environmental and social impacts of the project development,” the PS said.
Mr Nyoike said senior officials from the neighbouring country assured him that even if Gibe 3 project does not come into fruition, Ethiopia has 1,000MW from existing power stations that can be exported to the region thus justifying the need for the interconnection lines between the two countries.
The construction of a transmission line, 640 kilometers long on the Kenyan side is expected to be underway at an estimated cost of between Sh4.2billion and Sh5.6billion.
Meanwhile, plans to put up a 300MW wind power plant in Laisamis in Northern Kenya are still on course. To be able to evacuate that power, the government is currently installing the other interconnection lines that link to that area which has an estimated potential of 1,000MW.
Once these projects are done, there is a plan to connect the lines with Tanzania and other southern African countries so that the region can benefit from economies of scale and also mitigate dry spells that affect the availability and accessibility of power.