By BEATRICE OBWOCHA
Menengai Crater, an extinct volcano, is about to become active again, only this time it will not be spewing hot lava, but steam for electricity generation.
It will be the largest geothermal power-generating project in Nakuru County after the Olkaria in Naivasha.
The crater that plunges 500 metres down from the rim offers a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, nature reserve and Nakuru town from the top.
When The Standard on Saturday recently visited the crater, heavy machinery was being mounted at two sites.
Two rigs have been mounted and next month the once quiet crater will rumble to life as drilling machines meet grind through the rocks in search of clean power.
Geothermal Development Corporation (GDC) is undertaking the multi-billion shilling power generation project at the crater.
The Sh60 billion project is expected to generate 400 MW by 2014 and increase to 800 MW by 2016 and 1000 MW by 2018.
According to GDC Chief Executive Officer Silas Simiyu, the electricity generated at the Menengai Crater will boost the country’s electricity load. He says the current national installed capacity is about 1,428 MW with the peak demand being about 1,200 MW.
A view of Menengai Crater where Geothermal Development Corporation is drilling wells.[PHOTOS: BONIFACE THUKU/STANDARD]
The power generated from the crater, says Dr Simiyu, will boost electricity supply and nearly double the amount on the national grid. This may bring power charges down.
With the drilling of the two wells expected to begin next month, GDC has already advertised tenders for expression of interest from investors for construction of four power plants each with a capacity to produce 100 MW.
Simiyu says GDC would drill more wells after the two are operational.
He says GDC invited investors to start streaming off power to the gridline as soon as sufficient steam is proved.
The project is taking place about 30 kilometres from Nakuru town with the construction of the rigs being done about 14 kilometres from the Nakuru-Nyahururu road.
The geothermal project is set to put Nakuru on a higher grid on the map of geothermal power generation.
Simiyu says geothermal energy is clean and an attractive option especially now the world is talking about reducing carbon emissions from fossil duels.
He says the company will also set up hot baths and spas that in places like Iceland and New Zealand are a major tourist attraction.
According to the CEO, Nakuru will have direct power supply from the generation units.
He said the plant would offer opportunities for industries that dry vegetables or grains using hot brine from the power plants.
The hot brine can also be used for dairy production, soap and cooking fat making, honey processing, hides and skins treatment and fish farming. It can also be used in chemical extraction from medicinal plants such as aloe vera, juice and pyrethene from pyrethrum.
"This will bring new economic frontiers for the town and indeed the Rift Valley region," he added.
Already, some residents have benefited from employment, especially casual work, says Simiyu.
But the project has also sparked fear among residents who live near the crater. The crater has been a tourist attraction site for a long time and some curio owners fear it may affect their businesses.
From a popular viewpoint, one can see the rigs as well as other project sites within the crater.
James Maina, who sells curio, wonders what, will happen if the beautiful scenery of the crater is interfered with.
Residents say they fear the exploration may trigger volcanic activity at the extinct crater. Another seller, John Macharia, says residents were not informed about the project.
"We learnt what was going on when we saw roads being cleared and trucks transporting heavy metals," he says.
Jane Kamau says worshippers use some caves in the crater for prayers. "I hope we will not be barred from going to pray," she says.
Simiyu dispelled fears that the power generating project would reawaken volcanic activity, saying a team of GDC scientists conducted detailed surface exploration research before the project began.
He says they conducted an environmental social impact assessment and the company has put measures to mitigate any impact on fauna and flora, water, air, noise pollution and wastewater management among other geology effects.