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Experts Raise Concern Over FG’s Coal-to-power Project

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BY RUTH TENE

As Nigeria seeks to generate 30 per cent of its energy needs from coal, a report released by the Global Rights Nigeria, Country Office has called for an urgent review of the project saying the quest is inconsistent with COP 22, INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) commitment and President Buhari’s pledge to make the country a reference point in emissions reduction in addition to a number of issues.

The report credits the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing as saying “government is determined to diversify the country’s energy mix by increasing power generated from other sources to reduce its dependence on gas and hydro powered plants and has proposed to include renewable energy sources in this mix.  It has also proposed to generate 30% of the nation’s energy needs from coal.”

It further revealed that the choice of coal power is fraught with inherent challenges and dangers if the country intends meeting its other aspirations of protecting the health and wellbeing of its population, strategically responding to climate change, and ensuring cheap and almost infinite supply of materials.

The report noted that coal accounts for some of the worst man-made ecological disasters globally.

“For example, as at 2009, in the Europe Union alone, annually, coal energy generation accounted for 18, 200 premature death, 2.1 million days of medication, 4.1 million days of lost work, and 28.6 million cases of lower respiratory tract disorders. With Nigeria’s 30% coal power source utilization policy, it will unavoidably contend with similar issues.”

It also recalled that the country is also a signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and cognizant of the fact that apart from being the largest single contributor to greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, coal power plants are responsible for 41% man-made mercury emissions, which can travel long distances before being deposited in soil or water and so will affect more communities than the coal plant host communities.

It says that whether or not the Nigerian government will show commitment to international protocols it signed in these regards will be proven by its policies and actions with the 30% coal-to-power initiative.

The report stated that while coal is still one of the largest sources of energy globally, there has been a paradigm shift in its use as more countries are beginning to work towards phasing it out and are moving towards cleaner, and renewable sources such as solar, thermal, and wind sources, which are also proving to be less expensive.

In the foreword written by Global Rights, country director, Ms Abiodun Baiyewu-Teru, she said “Our report on Maiganga community is  to provide forensic anecdotal evidence and a realistic projection of the environmental and socio-economic effects of coal energy production in the short period coal mining commenced in the state; and to demonstrate the state of the communities that will inordinately bear the consequences of Nigeria’s coal utility policy.

“ It is our sincere hope that this report will provide fodder for policy makers to make informed decisions and ensure that they fulfil Section 17(1) of Nigeria’s constitution, which states that our ‘social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality and justice and therefore that the ‘…exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons, other than the good of the community, shall be prevented.’ In effect, social justice must be at the core of the benefits derived from our natural resources and coal power generation must be no different.”

The baseline of the report submitted that “The entry point for Nigeria’s coal renaissance as mentioned at the beginning of the report, lies in its desire to exponentially boost its generation of power by expanding its pool of energy sources to include coal.”

According to the report, the initial exploration efforts at the Zuma (Kogi State) site of Western Goldmines uncovered over 380 million tonnes of coal, stating that the company has, however, been able to secure 100 million tonnes of the said amount and is currently in the process of applying for additional licenses to prospect for more from the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.

The coal deposit site is expected to generate about 1000 megawatts of electricity which will be linked to the national grid and sold to Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and small house-holds.

The report further quoted the chairman of Western Goldfields, Dr. Innocent Ezuma as saying that the company’s current mining operation at Okobo community at Ankpa local government area of Kogi State is expected to be fed into the Zuma Power Plant at Itobe community at Ofu local government area for power generation.

It stated that apart from the ETA Zuma Coal Power project in Kogi State, there are currently four other active coal mine fields in Nigeria, which include: Owukpa Underground Mine Kogi State, Aba Surface Mine Enugu State, Okpara and Onyeama Underground Mines Gombe State and Ashaka Coal Mine, Maiganga,

The report states that in all, Nigeria has proven coal reserves of about 639 million metric tonnes while the inferred reserves are reckoned to be up to 2.75 billion metric tonnes.

It states that given the negative impacts associated with coal power generation and mines on their host communities and the global campaign to peg carbon emissions in response to climate change, Global Rights with support from Heinrich Boll Foundation, had in 2015, conducted a forensic environmental and socio-economic baseline study of Itobe community, and an assessment study of the environmental and socio-economic effects of coal mining on Okobo community, which had hosted coal mines for barely four years as at the time of the assessment.

It noted that the assessment of Okobo community revealed that the only stream, and main source of water supply at Okobo had become polluted due to the activities of the mining company, with inordinately high levels of elements such as phosphate, chromium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, and cadmium all indicative of compromise from the mine activities.

It also revealed that the distortion of the aquatic bodies in the communities had also resulted in the depletion of water from the community from its only surface water body on which the entire community is dependent.

The report added that soil samples also revealed high levels of copper, cadmium, chromium, phosphates, and manganese at levels dangerous to human habitation. While also noting that high levels of coal dust and noise pollution from trucks transporting the produce out of the community had resulted in increased reports of respiratory diseases.

It noted that the absence of a health care facility at Okobo meant that residents had to travel long distances to access medical care. “Considering the added health burden, occasioned by the mine, this challenge became more pressing.

The host community and the company were yet to reach a Community Development, Agreement, four years after mining had commenced in the community and its negative impacts felt,” Global Rights noted in the assessment. Adding that women and children inordinately bore the brunt of the negative socio-economic consequences of the coal mine in the community.

The report added that at Itobe community where the coal power plant was yet to be built, there was no indication that parameters were being installed to ensure that  the community does not suffer similar effects as other coal power plant host communities around the world.

“Following the baseline study of Itobe, and forensic study of Okobo community, it became important to document the environmental and socio-economic impacts of coal mining and coal power plants on other host communities in Nigeria. Our intent is to verify whether this was becoming a trend or that the results of the assessment in Kogi State were anomalies peculiar to only that project,” the report stated.

Baiyewu-Teru stated that the primary objective of the report “is to establish the health, environmental and socio-economic effects of coal mining, and create a baseline for coal power generation on their host communities.

“Nigeria’s coal powered energy policy thrust on the surface appears reasonable. Its proponents often tout it as being ‘available’, ‘cheap’, and as ‘creating job opportunities’. Having assessed two coal mining host communities in Nigeria, their notion has so far been demonstrated to be false,” the report submitted.

It rather noted that “In reality, coal has been proven time and again to be possibly one of the most expensive energy. Environmental degradation, host community health, and air pollution) are factored in.”

And that “For these reasons there has been a global shift to phase out dirty energy sources – in particular coal and nuclear sources, and embrace cleaner and greener sources.” An interesting fact about the coal currently mined in Nigeria is that none of the exploited in the past 10 years has been used for power generation or shows a promise of being utilized for this purpose anytime soon.

Coal energy is not the only source of energy the Nigerian government is contemplating within its energy master plan. It has rolled out a plan of generating 20 per cent of the nation’s energy needs from renewable energy in addition to the proposed 30 per cent coal energy to supplement, hydro and gas energy sources.

However, there hardly seem to be a strong push by the government to immediately implement the renewable energy plan or to ensure an increase in the proportion of these sources of energy over time. A constant excuse has been the cost of renewable energy technology – a fear which in the early days of clean energy was tenable due to their prohibitive cost. But as the technologies for their implementation have developed in recent years, the costs of wind and solar energy have declined substantially and are on their way to becoming the cheapest sources of energy. Today, renewable technologies are the most economical solution for new capacity in a growing number of countries and regions. Their infrastructure are easy to set up, compared to fossil fuel energy power plants and are typically the most economical solution for new grid-connected capacity. A joint publication by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and The Nigerian Economic Summit Group buttresses this point when it stated that “Global developments over the last two decades as well as recent trends clearly indicate that the costs of solar and wind energy as well as of storage technologies are set to decrease in Nigeria whereas the investment costs for conventional generation (in particular for coal and nuclear power) will at best remain constant.”

Another analysis in the same publication states that from an investor’s perspective, onshore wind, biomass, hydropower are currently competitive with coal and gas-fired power stations, and that the lower range of costs for utility-scale solar PV in Nigeria is also within the range of coal power generation costs.

Nigeria, no doubt needs to develop a long-term view of its energy infrastructure and its industrial needs, considering that the country ‘s population is expected to exponentially increase to 397 million persons –approximately the same population size with the United States – by 2050. It is clear that it needs more than a knee-jerk energy plan for its population and its industrialization needs. Its energy governance plans must be long term, and consider in- depth, a variety of factors, including its proposed sources of energy and their environmental and economic implications- in particular, creating resilience to combat climate change, the decentralization of its grid, and the challenges of its capacity upgrades.

The report has made it obvious that the Nigerian government needs to give deeper thought to its current energy sources.

The study presents Nigeria’s government with a foundation for conducting further research on the cost effectiveness of coal as a source of energy, especially in tandem with the nation’s obligation to protect the health and environmental rights of its citizens; appropriately respond to climate change –especially its consequences on water bodies and agriculture, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the depletion of the ozone layer which as a consequence causes global warming.

The report further notes that “It has become imperative that the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, and the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing need to review the environmental management systems they have adopted and find ways to reduce the pollution and environmental degradation caused by the activities of coal mining and coal energy production activities to their barest minimum.

In its recommendations it called on the Gombe State government to activate its State Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee (MIREMCO) to ensure that it is able to able to actively represent the interest of its citizens

It further called on the Gombe state government to urgently review the environmental impact assessment for the coal mines in order to promote the rights of its citizens and forestall further disaster.

It also called on the Nigerian government to immediately investigate and remedy the human rights violations in coal mining communities in Nigeria, particularly in Maiganga and Okobo communities.

It further called on the Ashaka Coal Mining Company to urgently review its operations and ensure its operations adhere to the UN Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights. In particular- to ensure that it does no harm, and if it does harm on its host community.

 



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