In 2003, the Energy Commission of Nigeria led the development of the National Energy Policy. The policy sought to define Nigeria’s energy strategy for the future. In the words of the policy, “the document provides the framework for a better development of the energy sector and for a more effective contribution of the sector to the national economy.”
Unfortunately, fifteen years later and after hundreds of billions of dollars spent, how to deliver electricity to the 100 million people without access still remains one of Nigeria’s biggest challenge.
With total power generation peaking at 5200MW,it is without a doubt, Nigeria needs a powerrevolution. How this is to be achieved remains to be seen. But one thing is certain; this revolution must be backed by strong and sincere political will.
In 2014, the federal government as part of its power sector strategy with the aim of fostering diversification of electricity generation mix proposed that 30 percent of the nation’s power source will be from coal.
With that, agreements have been reached and licenses issued for coal power generation. One is the 1200MW ETA Zumaplant in Itobe, Kogi State. Another is the 1000MW plant to be developed byHTG-Pacific Energy Consortium in Ezinmo, Enugu state. Geometric Power is also working on developing a 1000MW coal fired power plantin Enugu, Nigeria. Hmmmm!
Why are we two decades into the 21st century only waking up to the potentials of coal power generation? Coal is pure carbon.With this knowledge, why the renewed drive when other countries that have the technology and human capacity aredivesting from coal power?
If the current trend is anything to go by, in a decade or so we may not have companies that manufacture essential coal power plant spare parts.What happens then? Will our ‘precious’ coal power plantsgo moribund?
Scotland in March, 2016 closed her last coal fired power station; bringing the era of coal to an end. Just last year, Indiacancelled plans for a 14GW (14,000MW) coal fired plant. The country did so considering the “free falling” price of solar electricity to unprecedented levels.In 2016, the Canadian government announced plans to phase out the use of coal power generation by 2030. In 2017, the Chinese energy regulator- the National Energy Administration (NEA) ordered suspension of the development on more than 150 coal-fired power projects, with a combined installed capacity of about 100GW (100,000MW).
These are a few examples of countries that are moving beyond coal. Clearly, the decision by these countries to move away from coal power is connected to the environmental and social consequences of coal power development. Coal is responsible for 29% of global greenhouse gases (GHGs). And that is what the Paris Agreement to which 174countries including Nigeria has ratifiedaims to correct.
Nigeria’s intended nationally determined contribution(INDC) document clearly states that “Nigeria has a great potential for climate smart development.” It then begs the question; how can the country pursue low carbon growth and coal-fired power plant as the same time? One has to give. Which oneis a decision policymakers must think deeply about.
But at what cost is the government willing to pursue coal development?Is it to the detriment of future generations? Is it to the detriment of mining sites host communities? Is it to the detriment of our land, air, water bodies? Is itat the risk of creating another resource induced crisis?Is it at the risk of not meeting our international carbon reduction commitment? It isat the risk of asking foranother billion dollar clean-up plan from the United Nations?The cost of which is not factored into the cost of coal power production.
Considering our history of poor resource management – oil in the Niger Delta – our “abundant coal reserves” does not have to be exploited.In addition, there is no law that says ‘since we have it, we must use it.’ Again, there is no evidence that the lack of governing capacity has improved significantly in recent times. As the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development complains of being grossly understaffed. Thus are unable to carry out their mandated duties.
The forensic environmental impact studies by Global Rights – an NGO in Nigeria -shows that the disaster that coal mining portends is already showing its ugly face in Okobo, Kogi State and Maiganga, Gombe State.Lifestyle, livelihoods and living conditions are being disrupted on a daily basis.The studies recorded high levels of phosphate, chromium, manganese, copper, phosphorus and cadmium all indicative of compromise from mining activities. Water contamination, air pollution and land degradation were recorded in the study sites. Such irresponsible mining operations portend another Niger Delta environmental disaster.
Proponents of coal power say it is a cheap source of energy needed for development. But it is not that simple. There are external costs to host communities and cost for environmental remediation that are not factored into the energy bill. Importantly, the energy we need for development can come from renewables. Sadly, there seems to be poor political will to drive renewable energy in Nigeria. An example is the Katsina 10MW wind farm where work has stalled for years with the turbines laying waste.
No doubt, Nigeria needs more power, but we must weigh the opportunity cost. With the foregoing argument, coal is not necessary the solution to our power problems. We can develop beyond coal.
Thus, I appeal to our policymakers to leave coal in the ground and pursue renewables. There is a reason nature put the coal in the ground and the renewable resources above the ground. But unfortunately, mankind prefers to take the hard road of drilling, digging and dragging.
Yes, Nigeria has tore-think her energy options. But coal should not be the front burner.


Emmanuel Unaegbu

Unaegbu is Senior Program Manager at CLIMATTERS and writes from Abuja