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Lake Turkana Wind Power: The power is on

In case you haven’t heard of it yet, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project was an innovative undertaking – the single largest private sector investment in the country’s history. The aim: to create Africa’s largest wind farm. Finally, after years in development, this innovative investment is up and running, and already making a difference in people’s lives.

Located in the Loiyangalani District, Marsabit County, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project stands at 365 wind turbines, spread across a vast 40,000 acres. Each turbine has a capacity of 850kW – that’s over 300,000kW in total, or in other words, 17% of Kenya’s total capacity. The Wind Farm currently supplies up to 17% of daytime and up to 30% of night-time demand.

This development has been years in the making, from initial concept through to construction. Is it worth it? Absolutely. To have this high a portion of Kenya’s power supply from a clean source is a fantastic step in the direction of sustainability, and on top of that, also comes at a low cost. All of these benefits will, and are being, felt by the Kenyan people, as well as the country’s economy and, of course, the environment.

We have talked about this exciting project before, but even more excitingly, Lake Turkana is now complete and the turbines are spinning! The farm began generation power in September 2018, and on July 19th 2019, HE Uhuru Kenyatta presided over its official inauguration. The inauguration was a proud day for Kenya; the event was attended by national and county government leaders, key members of the Diplomatic Corps, investors, lenders, project contractors, and staff from both LTWP and KETRACO.

During the inauguration, the president also commissioned the Loiyangalani to Suswa transmission line – a 435km power line that connects the farm to the national grid. The farm is some way from the nearest city, selected because of its strong and consistent wind streams. In fact, this spot is one of the windiest places in the world! The wind blows for six months of the year from the northwest (the Kaskazi) and for six months from the southwest (the Kusi), as well as a low-level Turkana jet stream which blows steadily all year round in the low elevation region of the Turkana-Marsabit Corridor. This constant stream is aided by the presence of Mount Kulal to the North and Mount Nyiro to the South, which act to produce a venturi effect.

Of course, whilst this wind farm benefits many Kenyans, it is well known that the region where the wind farm is located is also home to many nomadic groups, and the construction of a wind farm over this much land may have raised concerns on the impact of the Wind Farm on this land. However, much of the 40,000 acres on which the Wind Farm sits is open, and has been left purposefully open for nomadic peoples to use.  Only 0.2% of the site is occupied by physical structures. LTWP’s permanent structures include 365 wind turbines, a substation and employee quarters (only the employee quarters and the substation are fenced – for safety purposes). The remaining land, representing 99.8% of t the project site, is left open to the public and continues to be used by the local nomadic population for settlement, grazing of livestock, and access to water points.

The farm was co-developed by KP&P Africa B.V and Aldwych International, who first partnered up on the project in 2006 following lengthy discussions the previous year. It has also received additional investment and support from the Investment Fund for Developing Countries, Vestas Eastern Africa Limited, Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation Ltd, KLP Norfund Investments AS and Sandpiper.

As well as being a boon to the country because of its sustainable, reliable and affordable energy, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project from inception been clear and steadfast on its resolve to improve the lives of the communities in and around the Project site. Through its corporate social responsibility arm, the Winds of Change (WoC) Foundation, Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) undertakes community development projects around three thematic areas: access to and improved quality of education and vocational training; access to and improved quality of water and sanitation facilities; and access to and improved quality of health services. It is expected that, over the twenty-year projected life of the project, WoC will contribute around €10 million to the area.

Some of the contributions of the Foundation to improved access to education in the constituency include: construction of science laboratories at  Nyiro Girls Secondary School and Korole Boys Secondary School, two classrooms at the new Loiyangalani Youth Polytechnic, an extension to the facilities of Sarima Primary School, and a dormitory at Nyiro Boys Secondary School. It has also installed a solar system at Mt. Kulal Girls Secondary School, provided desks, books and pens to 25 primary schools in Laisamis Constituency; and arranged educational school trips to the wind farm.

The access to healthcare in the Constituency was born from the realization that existing medical centres were few, spaced out and did not have adequate facilities to meet the health needs of the communities. Projects around health construction of dispensaries where none existed, provision of solar electricity to existing health facilities, facilitation of capacity building activities to improve skill sets of health practitioners and construction of sanitation facilities to improve quality of services provided In June, the Foundation handed over to the County Government of Marsabit a dispensary constructed in Sarima.

Due to the arid nature of the Project area, WoC has established water points in Arge, Laga el Fereji, Gatab, Ntil, Lonjorin, Larachi, Sarima, Illaut and Olturot which have helped bring water to closer to settlements of thousands. The company has also built water troughs to help provide water for livestock which are highly valued among the nomadic communities around the Wind Farm. Innovatively, WoC has installed a reverse osmosis system in Sarima Village – a village that houses 1500 people on the wind farm – which has improved the quality of life of the community.

LTWP is a gamechanger in renewable energy production in the country, an example of successful planning and execution of public-private partnerships and a responsible neighbour and investor, improving the economic, social and in some cases political outlook of a once marginalized area.