National Parks or Energy: Kenya’s Dilemma

by Jessie Capper

According to a recent report released by the International Energy Agency’s ‘Africa Energy Outlook,’ unreliable power supply has been a persistent problem in African countries. The IEA claims that by addressing this uncertainty, African governments help increase investment in their respective country’s power sector, and ultimately boost their GDP by an estimated $15 (International Energy Association 2014). Kenya continues to address its problems with efficient, reliable, and high-cost energy through the pursuit of renewable energy sources—varying from solar and wind power, to hydropower, and geothermal energy. Although Kenya’s energy initiatives are progressive and admirable, there is rising concern over detrimental side effects, especially to the national parks.

Geothermal power, in particular, has been a prominent energy source for Kenya (Out-Law Feb 25, 2015). Many international organizations, including the World Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the European Investment Bank, sponsored the Olkaria geothermal plant in Kenya’s Rift Valley. According to the World Bank, geothermal power accounted for only 13% of Kenya’s overall energy in 2010, compared to the estimated 51% that it now provides for Kenya’s energy grid (Out-Law Feb 25, 2015). The Kenya Electricity Generation Company (KenGen) claimed that geothermal energy is among the cheapest and most reliable renewable sources for electricity in Kenya as it costs a mere 7.2 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour; furthermore, geothermal power is not dependent on weather patterns as other renewable sources are, which ultimately establish unreliable energy supplies for Kenyans (Out-Law Feb 25, 2015).

The Olkaria geothermal plant in Kenya’s Rift Valley is a rich source of power for Kenya’s electrical grid (Olkaria Geothermal Project). The Olkaria Project produces enough energy to serve at least 500,000 Kenyan homes with 280 mW of geothermal power, and there is currently discussion of expanding this to 5,000 geothermal mW by 2030 (Sierra Leone Times Feb 11, 2015). The site has proven to reduce power prices, and is estimated to increase Kenya’s economic growth by substantially expanding beyond the mere 23% of Kenyans who currently have access to electricity (Sierra Leone Times Feb 11, 2015). Unfortunately, this development presents damaging consequences for Kenya’s national parks. The Olkaria Geothermal facility is set inside Hell’s Gate—a national park in Kenya (Sierra Leone Times Feb 11, 2015). Expanding the facility will undoubtedly lead to a disruption in Hell’s Gate ecosystem according to conservationist Silas Wanjala. Wanjala claims that the vegetation and animal life have changed due to the power generation in the park; animal species, such as the buffalo and white-backed vulture, are not nearly as healthy or viable as they once were before the existence of the Olkaria project (Sierra Leone Times Feb 11, 2015).

Kenya’s dilemma with the Olakria Project exemplifies the conflict facing numerous African governments—how to properly meet a country’s increasing demand for electricity while conserving the wildlife within and beyond its national parks. The Kenyan government is hopeful that it can develop a plan that ultimately achieves both goals in an effective and efficient way. Hopefully, their solution will establish a replicable model for other developing countries facing the same issue.

“Africa Energy Outlook.” International Energy Agency. 2014. Accessed February 27, 2015. http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WEO2014_AfricaEnergyOutlook.pdf

“Kenya’s Green Energy Boom Could Threaten National Parks.” Sierra Leone Times. February 11, 2015. Accessed February 25, 2015. http://www.sierraleonetimes.com/index.php/sid/230133683

Olkaria Geothermal Project (http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P001287/olkaria-geothermal-power-expansion-project?lang=en)

“Power Plant Investment in Kenya Boosts Geothermal Production to 51%.” Out-Law. February 25, 2015. Accessed February 26, 2015. http://www.out-law.com/en/articles/2015/february/power-plant-investment-in-kenya-boosts-geothermal-production-to-51—/

 

 

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