International companies have been asked to bid for a tender to extract coal in parts of Kitui and Mwingi districts.
The Ministry of Energy asked interested firms to bid for the last phase of the exploration in the Mui basin as part of efforts to determine the commercial viability of the reserves. This comes in the wake of rising global oil prices, which have in turn pushed up the cost of basic goods locally, including the price of fuel.
According to the tender notice published in the local dailies on Thursday, successful firms will be required to drill 20 more wells to ascertain the quality of the coal and recommend the best method for its extraction.
The companies are expected to start drilling in September. They will, among other things, carry out a detailed analysis of the coal seams and determine the quantities available.
However, there are fears that the fresh bids may not attract the best drilling companies. This is the second time the ministry is inviting private companies to boost Government efforts which have been slowed down by lack of proper equipment.
Last July, the ministry floated similar bids but failed to get responses from firms within East Africa to carry out extensive drilling. Sources at the ministry said most of the respondents were only specialists in light borehole drilling and lacked the capacity as they had not ventured into coal mining before.
Coal deposits in the Mui basin are being touted as a viable energy alternative to cushion the country’s economy against the effects of escalating global oil prices. Energy experts also said the discovery came at the right time because Kenya needs a lot of energy to drive the Vision 2030 development agenda, which seeks to turn the country into an industrialised country in 22 years.
Coal is used in a various ways but mainly in the generation of electricity. In South Africa, where coal mining is a major activity, electricity is four times cheaper than in Kenya.
Sixty seven per cent of Kenya’s power is generated from water, 10 per cent from geo-thermal and 23 per cent from thermal sources which are affected by international fuel prices.
Acting chief geologist Alfred Odawa said using coal would free some of the country’s foreign exchange reserves for other purposes. According to him, Kenya could become fully industrialised by 2020 if it had its own sources of energy.
Exploratory drilling spearheaded by government geologists which, began in 2001, has been yielding encouraging results, raising hopes of Kenya becoming a coal producer. However, the geologists have been using an old and ineffective rig until last year when the Government bought a new one.
Out of the 30 wells drilled so far at varying depths, geologists have encountered