Coal power plant establishment is another ‘devil’ to Ghana

Sun, 31 Aug 2014 Source: Hinneh, Samuel

By Samuel Hinneh

Growing concern about Ghana’s consistent power crisis and rising energy prices has sparked a rush to build a new coal power plant. Coal proponents argue that tapping into the nation’s reserve of coal is necessary for improving Ghana’s energy security and essential to providing cheap electricity in the face of rising energy demand.

However, only by ignoring its very serious health and environmental impacts can coal-fired power be considered a low-cost energy source. Coal-fired power is one of the most polluting forms of energy available, particularly when compared to renewable energy alternatives such as wind, solar and geothermal power.

Ghana’s energy sources are mainly hydro and thermal, with coal playing no role at present. Power demand is close to 2,000 megawatts, but a current shortfall in generation of about 400 megawatts — due to plant shutdowns for maintenance and reduced hydro generation — has triggered nation-wide power-rationing.

The country through the Energy Ministry has signed an agreement with China’s Shenzhen Energy Group, parent company of Sunon Asogli Ghana Ltd., to construct coal power plant basically to generate 700 megawatts of electricity. It is the wish of every Ghanaian to find a lasting solution to the ongoing perhaps improved load shedding in the power sector. But addressing that problem in a haste and in a more unfriendly manner to the environment and health is something that is of a great concern to all and sundry.

The use of coal to produce energy is regarded globally as dangerous to the activities of mankind and the society in general. Several research conducted by many organisations such as the World Health Organisation shows that coal particulates pollution cause approximately one million deaths annually across the world.

The construction firms say US$1.5 billion will be required to build a 700-megawatt coal-fired plant after feasibility studies yielded positive results, likely to be situated in the western region of Ghana.

Speaking to the assemblyman for Shama, a community in the Western region, Joseph Isaiah Mensah says coal plant establishment involves the use of water bodies and land to make it work therefore that poses great risk to farming and fishing livelihood activities.

According to Mensah, who is also a member of Community Environmental Advocacy Group (CEMAG) in Shama district, the youth along the coastal belt of Ghana believe the establishment of coal power plant would create job opportunities, however, it would more importantly, compromise their already existing livelihoods and future generation.

“If Ghana is looking for a lasting solution to power which is clean, then we should consider renewable energy such as solar, wind, which is abundant in the country,’’ he said.

“We are surprised the minister of energy has signed the contract. No environmental impact assessment has been done by the Chinese in any of the communities as said by the Chinese contractors,’’ Mensah noted.

Coal power plant produce lots of nitrogen oxides. The health effects of nitrogen oxides exposure range from eye, nose and throat irritation at low levels of exposure to serious damage to the tissues of the upper respiratory tract, fluid build-up in the lungs and death at high exposure levels.

Among the array of air toxics emitted by coal plants, mercury is the pollutant of greatest concern. After mercury is released to the air, it is deposited in bodies of water where it is converted to an organic form that accumulates in fish tissues. Humans are exposed to mercury primarily through the consumption of contaminated fish. The neurotoxic effects are particularly threatening to fetal and child development. Fetal exposure via the placenta can cause mental retardation and brain damage, while continued exposure in early childhood can result in learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.

“So when people inhale these gases that are emitted as a result of coal processing, it may increase the risk of coronary heart disease. When it comes to the ministry of health government is unable to meet their budget, so why then give them more challenges when you do not have enough resources to support them,’’ says Chibeze Ezekiel, the National Coordinator of Ghana-Reducing Our Carbon (G-ROC).

The coal power plant will threaten Ghana’s agricultural production, given that coal power plant requires huge land to reserve the residue or ashes meaning the land cannot be used for any other productive purposes.

“Also, coal requires water for processing so then when you use that water and becomes contaminated it flows into our seas, streams which affect those who depend on the water for their livelihood,’’ added Ezekiel, of G-ROC, part of the global climate change movement, 350.org.

In terms of policy as at 2011 parliament of Ghana enacted renewable energy act 2011 (Act 832) that provides for the establishment of renewable energy fund purposely to develop the renewable energy sector, however, the fund has not been created, underlining government’s low commitment.

In June, 2014 the president, John Mahama also launched two national policies on climate change and environment saying that climate change should no longer be topic for debate because the future of the country and generations unborn will be affected by how well the issue of climate change is tackled.

But the deputy energy minister John Jinapor, said coal offers a better option for reliable power, and that government is prepared to shake-off the fuel’s unclean tag by exploiting every available technology to improve its efficiency.

Currently Ghana emits about 24 megatonnes of carbon dioxide a year and developing a coal fired power station will certainly compromise the state of the environment as it spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With reference to the coal contract the government intends to import about 20 million tonnes of coal from South Africa which means that about 20 million tonnes of gases emission into the atmosphere.

Ghana has over the years failed to deal with the effects of mining, creating lots of environmental harmful effects such as destruction of water bodies, and yet the situation has not improved. One wonders why go in for another adventure to bring forth additional burden to the livelihoods of the citizenry in the name of power generation.

Global warming is already having a considerable impact worldwide; the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 150,000 deaths annually can be attributed to climate change. Increased heat-related illness and death, flooding, drought and more pest and water borne disease are among the many health consequences expected in a warmer world.

Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel