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Lack of power lines hits sub-Saharan Africa's biggest wind farm

By Reuters | Jun 8th 2017 | 2 min read
By Reuters | June 8th 2017

The biggest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa is ready for launch but will remain idle until next year as Kenya's government has not yet installed the transmission lines needed to get the clean power to customers, the provider of the turbines said.

Danish wind turbine maker Vestas Wind Systems installed 365 turbines at Lake Turkana in the hot desert north of the east African country in March, completing construction in less than a year and two months ahead of schedule.

The project, which will add 310 megawatts (MW) of power capacity, is located in one of Africa's windiest places. Costing 70 billion Kenyan shillings ($678 million), it is the country's largest single private investment and closely watched by investors looking for opportunities in African renewable energy.

The wind farm had planned to begin producing power this month, but construction of the transmission line to the power grid, being built by state-run Kenya Transmission Company (KetraCo), has been delayed.

"The challenge is now to get the wind farms connected to the grid and that is indeed a project which is not with us," head of Vestas' Central European and sub-Saharan business Nils de Baar told Reuters at the Africa Energy Forum in Copenhagen.

"The expectation is that it will happen in early 2018," he said, adding that the project is Vestas' largest-ever in terms of the number of wind turbines being installed.

The 428 km powerline from Loiyangalani in northern Kenya to Suswa in the centre of the country was due to be completed by October last year, but demands for compensation from landowners along the route and other issues have delayed it.

KetraCo is targeting completion of the transmission line in August, an official with the company said Wednesday.

An official at Kenya Power, owner and operator of the electricity transmission system, also stressed the company intends to honour its agreement and is working to identify a number of issues regarding compensation to the developer.

The Lake Turkana consortium consists of KP&P Africa, Aldwych International, Investment Fund for Developing Countries, Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation, Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries, Sandpiper and Vestas. Once completed, Google, a part of Alphabet Inc, will acquire Vestas' 12.5 percent stake in the project.

Once in operation, the Turkana Lake wind farm is expected to provide 15 percent of Kenya's total electricity needs. The east African nation relies heavily on geothermal and hydro power for its electricity supply.

The project had originally been due to start generating power in June 2011, but faced delays securing financing and construction did not start until 2014.

Despite an abundance of funding, investments in renewable energy in Africa are only developing slowly due to problems with bureaucracy and infrastructure.

Still, Vestas said Wednesday it hopes to announce new wind farm projects in Morocco and West Africa "very soon". Last year, it secured just one order on the continent, a 120 MW project in Morocco, and delivered a 181 MW project in South Africa.

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