The Making of the Huge Lake Turkana Wind Power Project

Lake Turkana

It will feed 300Megawatts into the national grid via a 400km high-voltage transmission line that will be concurrently built by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company

When Willem Dolleman first begun fishing and camping around Lake Turkana in the early 1980s, he was struck by the powerful winds blowing in the area. Not only would they blow his boat away from the shore, but they would literally uproot his tent on the bank of the lake forcing him to sleep in his car.

Willem, a Dutchman, was used to winds. Holland has utilized wind energy for centuries and the powerful Lake Turkana winds made Willem wonder if power could be generated from them. The only problem was, no one was interested in wind power. Oil was cheap and the sheer effort and resources needed to begin to exploit wind power in such a remote region for transmission to the national grid was just not worth it. Fast forward to almost three decades later and the tide or wind if you will, has certainly broken in Willem’s favour.

The price of oil is at near all time highs, the Kenya energy sector has undergone review with a state corporation Ketraco formed to solely build electricity transmission lines, global warming has made renewable energy all the rage, drawing funding from multi-lateral lenders and sovereign governments, and the wind in Lake Turkana, still blows at more than 10 metres per second, the fastest in the world. And Willem Dolleman, his partner Carlo Van Wageningen and others are finally about to put up the largest wind farm in the world in the L. Turkana area promising to generate 300Megawatts for the national grid.

Under a group called KP&P, the founding owners of Lake Turkana Wind Power Company, they intend to put up 365 wind turbines over a 24,000 acre area which will be connected to the national grid via a 400Km high-voltage transmission system at Suswa. The wind farm will be the largest in Africa and will establish Kenya as the clear leader in wind generation on the continent.

Getting here was not easy. Once oil price started their ascent, interest in renewable energy increased. Dolleman had raised interest in the project amongst his Dutch friends, particularly Harry Wasserman who was involved in wind energy in Holland who advised that they form a group to pursue it.

Investing in 10 wind masts, the friends sought to back their ambitions with hard facts. DEWI, the German Wind Institute was brought in to measure the wind. It found that the L. Turkana/Marsabit area winds averaged 11m/s every month. “These results are among the best DEWI has ever encountered and can be compared to ‘proven reserves’ in the hydrocarbon industry,” the Global Energy Network Institute noted.

Because of two mountain ranges in the area, Mt. Kulal to the North and Mt. Nyiru to the South the already fast winds are further accelerated creating a venturi effect, similar to when you reduce the size of a pipe that water has to go through. Vestas, the wind turbine maker that will supply this project, reportedly can’t put up masts in some areas because the winds speeds would burn up the turbines.

With a proven wind regime the group moved to seek partners for the next phase of the project. – assessing its viability. Around 2004 things were also changing. Oil prices were rising, and combined with global warming, served to increase interest in renewable energy. At the same time in Kenya, an energy multi-sectoral committee had come up with proposals for reforming the energy sector to make it more efficient which would ultimately become the Energy Sessional Paper no. 4 of 2004.

It led to the enactment of the Energy Act of 2006 which established the Energy Regulatory Commission that in turn developed feed-in-tariffs (FITs) that would be crucial for independent power generators like LWTP. “The challenges to do this project became apparent immediately,” Wageningen noted.

“First of all, he said, well the site of the wind farm scared us in the beginning because he (Wassener) said we have to go big. We cannot do a small wind farm here because our distance from the wind mine to the grid is so far that in order to justify a transmission line you need to have a lot of volume of energy. You can’t do a 30MW wind farm and expect to pull 400KM of transmission line.” The minimum capacity they could was 300MW. Kenya’s installed power capacity was only 950MW so in effect they were proposing to supply a third of the country’s power from wind. Many found that unbelievable.

Secondly, the equipment to be transported was very bulky and the nearest road from the would-be site for the project was 250Km from the road and with only a footpath running through to it. They would have to build a road. The group which by now was called Lake Turkana Wind Project, approached the African Development Bank (AfDB) which showed interest. “AfDB took an immediate liking to this project because it is green energy and its going to be cheap energy to Kenya and because it is going to bring a very large investment into a poor part of Kenya, bring infrastructure and so we got a lot of support from them,” Wageningen said.

LTWP had broken the project into six components. One was the actual power plant construction, two, the substation construction, three was the road, four, the transmission line, five, a village to house 300 staff. Sixth would be the giant capacitors to stabilize the power and feed it into the national grid with consistence.

The Spanish government stepped in and decided to fund the transmission line to the tune of 142 million euros (Sh15billion). With AfDB promising to back the project, costing was done and LTWP was able to negotiate power purchase tariffs with the Kenya Power and Lighting Company at the rate of 7.72 euro cents per Kilowatt hour, the cheapest the utility has to pay any power generator so far for a 20-year commitment.

AfDB then undertook to mobilize funding for 70 per cent of the 585 million euro (Sh63billion) project but required LTWP to come up with a 30 per cent cash injection as equity. AfDB will put up 100m euros (Sh10billion) of its own, while co-arrangers Standard Bank and Nedbank will put another 100m. The rest will be syndicated.

LWTP on the other hand brought in equity partners as well as joint development partners in the form of Aldwych which own Rabai power plant (25 per cent), IDC of South Africa (25 per cent), Norfund and Vestas (25 per cent each), Danish IFU (6.25 per cent ) and KPMP (8.75 per cent). To get the equipment on site, 12,000 round trips will be required to haul the three main components; the generators which weigh 28 tons each, the blades which weigh 3 tons and each is 26 metres long as well as the hollow masts which will also have a lift inside for ease of maintenance work.