INTERVIEW: Power vs People?

Teaser Image Caption
Power vs People - Interview

Christine K, Heinrich Böll Foundation (hbs): ETA Zuma is investing in coal fired power plants in Kogi State. When will Nigeria get its first megawatts from Kogi coal?

Ambassador Joseph Ayalogu of ETA Zuma Energy: Well, we have a 1,200 megawatt power plant license for Itobe, which will be broken into four modules of 300 megawatts each. The financing will come from both local and international investors and of course the beauty of it being a private sector driven activity is that one has to be efficient to make profit. Let’s assume we start construction next year with the first tranche of 300 megawatts. It takes approximately 30 months to complete and roll into action, so we are looking forward to actualizing the 1,200 megawatt limit within the next 5 years or so.

hbs: Let me turn to Nnimmo Bassey - you’re known to advocate for “leaving coal in the hole”. Would you rather leave all Nigerian coal in the soil and not have electricity?

Nnimmo Bassey of Health of Mother Earth Foundation: The whole world knows we are facing a climate crisis. If we exploit coal, keep on exploiting oil and gas, and keep on burning them, then we are burning our future and that future is getting very near, it’s not a distant future. I’m really surprised that Kogi State is taking on energy sources that are actually questionable. For example, there is a proposal to establish two nuclear power plants in Nigeria, one in Kogi State and one in Akwa Ibom State, and this is completely outrageous. Coal may not be as dangerous as nuclear power plants, but having coal power plants and nuclear power in Kogi State? Oh my goodness, I don’t know what is going to happen to Kogi State.

hbs: So what solution do you proffer? How will Nigeria get the much needed 100,000 or more megawatts needed for development?

Bassey: I think coal is not the only option. Neither is gas the only option. We have other options: solar, wind and thermal solutions are options that are not burning fossil fuels. I think Nigeria is very slow in exploiting sustainable options. Also, every coal mine has a life span – they are exhaustible, so coal is a short term source of energy but we need to have energy in the long term from something that is safer for the environment.

hbs: Germany has had a long tradition of using coal, and knows the problematic legacy it leaves behind. Impoverished coal mining areas, environmental devastation, polluted ground waters, sinking cities and toxic pits are long-term legacies that are costly to deal with. How is ETA Zuma going to deal with these predictable consequences of coal mining and power generation?

Ayalogu: Thank you for the question. Germany is a place we’d all love to be, the home of the Mercedes Benz and the good life, so we’ll say “give it to us and when the negative aspect comes, we’ll deal with it”. The point is that Germany needed power and got it and became a world power based on the fact that it was able to become industrialized. When Germany was at the peak of getting power from coal, technology was a little bit backwards, but the situation has changed. There are environmental mitigation processes and so on. There is a robust ESIA [Environmental and Social Impact Assessment] arrangement for the Itobe plant. The technology we are going to use meets the minimum World Bank standard with regards to sulfur and nitrogen.

hbs: Are you planning for carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is a relatively new technology that captures the carbon out of the smoke emissions from the coal plant and forces it back into the soil?

Ayalogu: Yes, we will use CCS. Itobe is a modern technological engagement. We are not going to pick up some old used technology from Europe. The intention is that we deploy the best of technologies that is currently available.

hbs: There aren’t many sites in the world where CCS has really been tested and proven to be successful, and where it is in operation in the US and in Norway, there is no scientific study to prove that the carbon actually stays underground. What if the carbon starts leaking out of the soil?

Ayalogu: Carbon is always with us.

hbs: But not in that concentration…

Ayalogu: This is why the technology that will be deployed in Itobe will meet the minimum World Bank standards. That’s what we are aiming for. In this world, you can’t have everything that is crucial but if you know what the challenges are and you minimize them, and you adapt technology to it, then you can take part, not totally but reasonably…..but on the other side of it, you need energy. I agree that there are renewable options, which of course the country will have to adapt to. And maybe that is why the government is talking of just 30% of power generated from coal. Maybe if we develop the other forms of energy sources, we may not even have 30% from coal. So like you said, the important thing is to be aware that it is not just coal, or gas, but you can’t exclude them. You will have to continue to develop the other forms of energy sources.

Bassey: I think the best thing is to nip the problem in the bud. We don’t have to wait until we have a problem then start to solve it or look for ways to mitigate the impact. It’s an erroneous notion that human beings can use technology to fix any kind of problem that affects the environment and the people. Mr Ayalogu mentioned the fact that ETA Zuma is going to take care of the sulphur emissions, the nitrogen emissions, but besides these things, you are going to have all kinds of impacts on our communities and these are communities where you don’t have health infrastructure to support them and of course the industry will tell us it is a part of a corporate social responsibility project to building clinics. But of what use is a clinic if I’m being poisoned? It’s like when Nigerians talk about subsidy in the oil sector, the real subsidy is paid with the lives of people dying in the Niger Delta and not from government paid marketers.

hbs: What kind of environment and social impacts does ETA Zuma foresee? And how are you going to address them?

Ayalogu: Well, I have said earlier that our technology will be one that reduces emissions at least to the minimal level.

hbs: Does that mean that when you live close to the coal power plants, you won’t have any respiratory issues?

Ayalogu: Well, even without coal power plants, we have respiratory problems. I don’t want to sound like one is too sanguine. You can’t have an omelette without breaking some eggs and this is the way life is. Even without any plant at all, people still have health problems. The only thing that helps everybody is knowledge about what you are doing and what can be the mitigating strategies to put in place and then to make sure that these things are being done.

Bassey: Anytime anyone says coal is not that bad, I just laugh because coal is really bad for the environment, and you know, nobody can only go on coal forever because it is not a renewable resource. Nigeria is in a desperate situation when it comes to energy production, but this should not force government to take desperate actions. They should sit down to think, to weigh the impacts. I have seen many coal mining communities in Germany where one would not expect there would be problems of this nature. If you go to South Africa, you see the coal mines, you see the acid rain damages, you see the fires in the abandoned coal mines. I went to Windbank community where they have fires burning underground for almost 50 years and they have seen houses disappearing. You go to fields and just see waves of heat coming from underground and you have to look carefully where to put your legs so you won’t disappear into an abandoned coal mine. The Nigerian environment is already so trashed that we don’t need to create new problems.

hbs: So you are proposing zero megawatts from coal... What is the one major obstacle to achieving this?

Bassey: It is the power of the corporation. They have the ears of the government. Especially this government that is saying that the country is broke and there is no money because of the price of crude oil, they will hang on to anything, and of course, every governor is now saying we are going to develop solid mining. Coal is a solid mineral and we have a fairly good solid minerals law that was enacted in 2007 which gives some scope for communities to determine whether they want to allow mining or not and to be paid rent for the land, to be paid for the resources taken from them. If this is implemented, if that law is implemented rightfully, the communities will have a say because at the end of the debates, what communities will be ready to accept will be based on knowledge. They need to know the impacts of the mining, they need to know what jobs will come to them, they need to know what will happen to their health, they need to know what will happen to their social infrastructure and culture and all this. If they see all of this and say, ‘Yes we want mining!’ – of course, we won’t go against their decision. But we want them at least to be informed so that they can say like the Ogoni people said, we don’t want mining, we don’t want drilling from our communities except you clean the mess.

hbs: Mr Ayalogu, would you expect government to pay for the social and health costs arising from coal mining and power generation, or would you expect the operating companies to cover the cost?

Ayalogu: Well, it depends on governments to provide health care. Of course, there are companies that provide energy, coal, that are also bound by their CSR and by community development commitments to make sure that the outcome of whatever they do in terms of health and other social issues is taken care of by them. So I will expect that government will come down heavily on the operators. Monitoring is the key thing to make sure that whoever is doing whatever, is aware and responsible for what he does. That has been the problem with the fossil fuel sector as it pertains to Nigeria but it’s not that bad in other countries because there is a government that is always behind your back to ensure that each step you take is the correct thing. And once you do that, I’m not saying that the world will be a totally clean place, but at least you know how to live with it.