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‘But We Cannot Do It All’: Investors’ Sustainability Tensions and Strategic Selectivity in the Development of Geothermal Energy in Kenya

Part of the World Sustainability Series book series (WSUSE)

Abstract

Several studies have questioned investors’ adequate consideration of the three pillars of sustainable development in the construction of development projects in the Global South. Other studies have proposed and developed frameworks for fostering their adoption and application in the planning and construction of such projects. However, relatively little attention has been directed to understanding the intricate processes and dynamics involved in investors’ adherence to these sustainability triad. This paper explores these sustainability adherence processes, and their associated challenges and imponderability in the context of large-scale geothermal projects development in Kenya. We argue that investors’ commitment to the sustainability framework in the development of such projects is characterized by sustainability tensions, reflected in conflicting interests, dilemmas, and power struggles that investors face as they attempt to simultaneously apply the three principles of sustainable development in delivering their projects. In order for investors to manage these tensions, the study shows that they engage in strategic selectivity, whereby the extent of adherence to certain components of the sustainability principles are based on winning interests, priorities and convenience. These processes are explored by drawing on perspectives from sustainable development, Triple-Bottom-Line and corporate sustainability discourses. Expert and informal interviews, document analyses, ethnographic fieldwork and field visits are used to track and illustrate these processes, using the case of large-scale geothermal project developments in Olkaria, Kenya.

Keywords

  • Sustainability
  • Tensions
  • Strategic selectivity
  • Geothermal
  • Kenya

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Olkaria III is 48 MW power plant, owned and operated by the privately owned U.S. company OrPower 4, a subsidiary of Ormat Technologies Inc., under an IPP arrangement.

  2. 2.

    With the plans to rehabilitate Olkaria I, units 1–3 and to build a new plant (Olkaria I unit 6, which is estimated to be 83 MW), total capacity of Olkaria I is estimated to reach 237.7 MW from its current 185 MW by 2021.

  3. 3.

    The GoK had relied on Hydropower for energy generation in the past.

  4. 4.

    GIBB Africa is a consultancy firm hired by KenGen to conduct the census to determine compensation and to draft the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP).

  5. 5.

    The Social Safeguards Office compiled monthly progress reports to share with KenGen, IEP, and the county administration. It also assumed the role of secretary in the Resettlement Action Plan Implementation Committee (RAPIC). The RAPIC was a deliberation platform, which involved all important stakeholders involved or affected by the RAP, including the investors and the Project Affected Persons (PAPs).

  6. 6.

    Including site layout and tendering, and supervision of contractors doing construction.

  7. 7.

    Including EIB, AFD and KfW.

  8. 8.

    Traditional Maasai housing units or clusters.

  9. 9.

    The communities previously relied on local herbal medicines for curing ill health.

  10. 10.

    The Naivasha District Commissioner had this position prior to the devolution of government.

  11. 11.

    This position no longer existed after the devolution of government.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the interview partners for their time during fieldwork. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. This research was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through funding for the project “Energy futures” as part of the collaborative research center “Future Rural Africa” (Project-ID 328966760—TRR 228).

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Nweke-Eze, C., Kioko, E.M. (2021). ‘But We Cannot Do It All’: Investors’ Sustainability Tensions and Strategic Selectivity in the Development of Geothermal Energy in Kenya. In: Leal Filho, W., Pretorius, R., de Sousa, L.O. (eds) Sustainable Development in Africa. World Sustainability Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-74693-3_21

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-74693-3_21

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