NAIROBI, March 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - E nvironmentalists seeking to halt a 1,000 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant on Kenya's unspoilt northern coast are pinning their hopes on a court hearing later this month, following its approval by the energy industry regulator.
Save Lamu, a local rights group, filed a case in November to block Amu Power Company's energy project, which the campaigners say will adversely impact the fragile ecosystem around Lamu, a United Nations World Heritage Site.
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) overruled objections to the plant last month, saying it was satisfied all environmental concerns would be handled adequately.
"We are dismayed the energy commission could do this at a time when we have pending court matters with Amu Power," Walid Ahmed, a Lamu activist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The whole world is worried about global warming and climate change. It can't be these things do not matter for Lamu."
In the Paris climate deal, Kenya promised to cut its carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.
"The coal plant may significantly dent this ambition," said Omar Mohamed Elmawi, Save Lamu's national liaison officer.
Save Lamu's case at the National Environment Tribunal will be heard on March 22 and 23, he said.
Lamu is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in east Africa. Tourism is a mainstay of the local economy with visitors enjoying its pristine white beaches, annual festivals and narrow, winding streets.
Environmentalists say effluent from the plant will pollute the sea, killing marine life, coral reefs and mangroves that locals depend on.
The $2 billion plant is part of a plan to more than double Kenya's electricity generating capacity to about 6,700 MW by 2017, providing power for industries and much needed jobs in a country where one in five young people are unemployed.
Amu Power was initially expected to begin construction of the plant in December 2015.
Critics argue the plant is unnecessary as Kenya already produces enough power for its 42 million people.
"We can meet the increased electricity demand of around six percent per annum and are on schedule to meet even higher demand in the future," said Robert Shaw, a Nairobi-based public policy and economic analyst.
Kenyan businesses regularly complain that power cuts - due to the country's ageing grid - and unreliable supplies make them uncompetitive and hurt growth.
The problem is poor maintenance, not insufficient supply, Shaw said. (Reporting by Daniel Wesangula; Editing by Katy Migiro and Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)