Lake Turkana Wind Power – transforming the energy landscape in Kenya
By John Silence
Kenya has for a long time relied heavily on hydro-generated electricity. As a result of limited generation capacity, this has led to chronic power shortages, unconscionably high tariffs and destructive power outages. In an effort to mitigate against the negative economic effects this was having on the country, the government of Kenya, through the Energy Act of 2006, (which came into force on 1st July 2007) effectively paved the way for the entry of other players in the transmission and distribution of electricity. The Act specifically ‘empowers the Minister to promote the development and use of renewable energy technologies, including but not limited to biomass, biodiesel, bio-ethanol, charcoal, fuel wood, solar, wind, tidal waves, hydropower, biogas and municipal waste’. With the liberalization of the sector, players in the geo-thermal segment were the first to pick up the gauntlet in any significant way. Wind power followed shortly after, but on a rather limited scale.
The time for green energy has come and Wind Power is now taking a front seat. Steering this change is Lake Turkana Wind Power and there is nothing modest about the scope and scale of its operations. The company was conceived in 2005 and at KES 70B worth of outlay, represents the single largest private investment in Kenya. The initial stages of the project were fraught with uncertainty with the World Bank (expected to be a key financier) pulling out over fears of overproduction of power. The African Development Bank stepped into the breach and together with a stellar cast of equity partners and financiers ensured that the project was on course. The Kenya government provides a sovereign guarantee. The company is based in the Lake Turkana Wind Power Village in Marsabit, with its administrative arm in Nairob The LTWP Village is an ultra-modern facility that provides living quarters for the company staff. Headed by the affable Phylip Leferink, who is the general manager, and ably deputized by the quietly efficient Caroline Ongeri, the operations of the company are set to change not only the fortunes of the local communities but also the power generation structure in Kenya. In Marsabit the project sits on 40 000 acres of land. Sarima in Loiyangalani sub-county of Marsabit has seen a radical change in its landscape. Giant turbines supplied by Vestas of Denmark stand regally on the escarpment (evocative of lunar terrain), 50 km north of South Horr and 230 km north-west of Marsabit town. With unflagging uni-directional wind speeds of, on average, 11.3 metres per second all year round, the first 90 turbines are expected to start generating power in mid-October 2016. The energy produced
by these 90 turbines will be transmitted to a sub-station on site and from there evacuated via the transmission lines currently under construction by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) and connected to the national grid at Suswa. The turbines are expected to provide 75 MW of power. At its full operational capacity, and with 365 turbines put to work (each producing 850KW), the 310MW of energy generated will be connected to the national grid. This is sufficient energy to power 1 million Kenyan homes and will translate to 20% of the current installed electricity generating capacity. The timeline for this boost to the grid is May-June 2017. Once fully operational this will be the biggest wind farm in Africa. The country can expect to save KES 17B a year owing to reduced importation of fuel used in thermal power plants.
The local community stands to gain directly in a number of ways from the project. Currently the region does not have any commercially viable economic activity of any scale. With the upgrading of the Laisamis-Sarima road, 207km that is now motorable, and which has opened up the area and provided easier access to Lake Turkana, investors will look more kindly on the harsh terrain and follow the lead provided by the Lake Turkana Wind Power company. At the height of the construction works the company employed over 1000 locals. With the completion of the road, which was the initial major work associated with the wind power project, this number now hovers around 600. The technical nature of the project means that the bulk of employees will eventually be whittled down to administrative staff, engineers, surveyors and other scientific personnel. Once the 310MW are connected to the grid, the Kenya Power and Lighting Company is expected to extend electricity to the area through its rural electrification programme. Marsabit is part of what was known as the Northern Frontier District. The harsh terrain supports very little vegetation. Some of the communities here are nomadic by necessity. It is rare to find a manyatta in one place for longer than 10 days. The search for what little pasture there is for the animals is unending. Villages form where there is a fairly reliable source of water. The communities from Laisamis to Sarima have benefitted through the provision of water from 5 boreholes sunk by the company through its Winds of Change foundation. This has seen a dramatic change in the fortunes of these communities. The time previously spent in search for water can now be gainfully utilized by the youth in bettering themselves through study. The company (through the foundation) also supports the existing educational setup in an effort to directly empower the local community for future employment opportunities. 23 schools have already benefitted through the refurbishment of classrooms, provision of teaching materials and supply of desks. Of particular concern to the foundation is the development of vocational skills to the people of the constituency and the larger county. With the provision of affordable power and a road that has opened up Laisamis constituency (and by inference the greater Marsabit region) other investors will eventually set up shop in the area. The region would benefit greatly (and ably support through trained manpower) the setting up of a cement factory, tanneries, fish processing plants and eventually even have world-class lodges around The Jade Sea, as Lake Turkana is sometimes called. The Winds of Change foundation has also upgraded the Administration Police quarters and extended the police office in Loiyangalani. The enhanced security is a benefit that is felt by all. The ripple effect that wind power will bring to the area is difficult to quantify. With the President himself promising lower power tariffs to companies that invest in the area, the afore-mentioned ventures are but a layman’s inadequate attempt to comprehend the scope of possibilities once all players (LTWP, KETRACO and KPLC) discharge their obligations in a timely manner.