Multimillion solar project heralds new beginning for Garissa residents

A cross section of the 200,000 solar panels at Garissa Solar power plant which is set to produce 55megawatts of electricity. The government is putting up the Sh13.5 billion plant in Garissa to improve on the power deficit in the country. [Philip Muasya, Standard]
About 500 metres from Raya market in Garissa County, men and machines run in a frenzied but calculated mode, trying to put up final touches in a mega solar project billed as the biggest in East and Central Africa.

On one side of the compound, an excavator scoops a heap of soil and feeds it onto a waiting motor wagon, which then speeds off.

On another side, a Chinese man and his two Kenyan assistants are busy putting up tiles on the floor of a building housing some offices. In another section, another lot is putting metal grills inside a humongous structure.

Clean energy

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When one enters the compound where China Jiangxi International Economic and Technical Cooperation Ltd is putting up the Sh13.5 billion project, the eyesight melts into a maze of layers upon layers of solar PV panels neatly lying side by side on erected metal poles which are about two metres above the ground.

The labyrinth of over 200,000 solar panels sits in a rectangle form of about 1.5km by 1km to tap into the scorching Garissa sun. It is from this project sitting on 85 hectares where 55 megawatts (MW) of electricity will be produced and injected to the national grid as the country moves towards adopting clean energy technology.

“We are working round the clock to ensure we deliver the project on time. Everything is going according to plan,” said Cheng Hui Zhang, the assistant project manager.

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Mr Zhang said the solar PV panels are able to function for 20 years before they can be replaced, adding that 2,000 homesteads will be connected to power when the project is complete.

The project, which is set to revolutionise Garissa town and make it an industrial hub, is being funded by the Exim Bank of China and supervised by Rural Electrification Authority (REA).

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The local community from the larger Raya Location, which has for decades endured the indignity of lack of power, is upbeat that with the project, their fortunes will change for better.

Ms Fatuma Yarow, 51, who lives in a crowded manyatta a distance away from the solar plant, says it has been difficult living in darkness for years.

“We only rely on torches. Wild animals and snakes stray into our compounds at night. We hope this project will light up this area,” Yarow says.

Two days ago, she told us, she lost two goats at night as she tussled with a hyena.

Total darkness

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Abdi Sagar, 33, who lives in the neighbouring Shabah village, concurs, saying only three shops are connected to electricity in his locality. The rest of the homesteads numbering about 300 are condemned to total darkness.

“If the project will make power accessible and affordable to all that is welcome. Everybody here needs electricity. It is what we have been crying for for many years,” says Sagar.

He is one of about 60 locals who work at the project site as casuals. They are paid Sh700 a day. He however wants the government to consider them for permanent jobs once the project is completed.

Mumin Gedi, the chairman of Baar Rahma village, which has about 200 households, is the only one who has connected power to his house.

“We envision a situation whereby the local schools and health centres will be lit up. Many more households will also be in a position to connect to electricity,” says Gedi.

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As Raya Community and surrounding areas are about to be lit up, the busy Garissa town is also set to get a major boost, with small-scale industrial investors set to flood in.

Currently, the town relies on the long hydro-power lines from Kindaruma dam, whose power is highly unreliable. Frequent power outages are a constant inconvenience to businesses and facilities such as Garissa Provincial General Hospital.

REA Managing Director Peter Mbugua told Saturday Standard that the solar project would be complete by end of September and would immediately stabilise power in Garissa town and other surrounding areas such as Madogo and Bangaley.

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Garissa Countysolar energyRural Electrification Authoritychinese projects