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Why Lake Turkana Wind Power is a transformational project for Kenya and East Africa

By Rizwan Fazal | November 14th 2018
Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP). [Ali Abdi/Standard]

Lake Turkana Wind Power’s (LTWP) decade-old journey, from humble origins to Africa’s largest wind farm and Kenya’s single largest private sector investment, has encountered many obstacles.

But nothing has tested the collective resolve of both public and private stakeholders, involved in this project, as the barrage of negativity that engulfed what should have been a joyous occasion when the much-awaited 436km transmission interconnector was energised, paving the way for clean, reliable, affordable power. The interconnector links the 310.25MW power plant to the national grid at Suswa.

This is a private company that has set the benchmark for how successful infrastructure projects will be undertaken in Sub-Saharan Africa; a project that places Kenya firmly on the global map in so many positive ways.

It is a project with a financing structure that will rarely be replicated; and a transformative undertaking that has offered hope and potential to residents of one of the most neglected parts of Kenya.

Full transparency

It is easy to get waylaid by sensation and focus on the much-reported 46 million euro paid by the Government to LTWP for the Transition Interconnector Delay Deemed Generated Energy in 2017, and the corresponding 0.00845 euros per kWh that will be added on to power bills for six years (at which rate, LTWP’s tariff is 8.53 euro cents per Kwh).

There is nothing sinister about this. LTWP has explained, in full transparency, the genesis, need and result of this.

Any attempt at trying to discredit LTWP or the Government is futile and LTWP has been not only utterly patriotic in how it worked hand in hand with the Government to resolve this as painlessly to Kenyans as possible, but is unbelievably transparent.

LTWP’s project financing structure withstood the rigour of 17 international, credible and seasoned lenders and investors’ due diligence and will, for years to come, be among the most credible project financing ever undertaken.

There are so many silent voices in the Government and private sector who have gone out on a limb – who believed in this project and wanted it to succeed for the future of this country. But no one has thanked them. They wish to remain in the shadows out of fear of being seen to be compromised.

How can Kenya develop if Kenyans do not appreciate what has been done by Kenyans for Kenyans? Where were the 43 banks in the project financing structure? All the debt is procured offshore (cheaper and with longer tenors).

But one Kenyan bank took the bold step and provided a construction security (fully collateralised, in case the cynics ask).

LTWP has spent on CSR between 2014 and 2018 more than Marsabit County did on development projects in the same period. It paid over Sh1 billion in taxes even before it received its first shilling from sale of power.

It built a 208km road that has cut down travel-time from Laisamis to Sarima by over a day and opened up trade, investment and economic activity to an area previously marginalised, and has radically improved security, health, education and other social indicators.

System instability

It is not until LTWP came online and started generating intermittent renewable energy that reality dawned: How are we going to deal with the questions of how the committed generating capacity in the Least Cost Power Development Plan 2018 for the period 2017–2037 is going to be absorbed? How will we manage system instability?

What will happen when the Ethiopia HVDC line evacuates 600MW of hydro-power? Have we started thinking of installing a synchronous condenser at the Suswa sub-station? Do we push for a coal plant or not – and if not, how do we deal with minimum spinning reserve?

What’s the role of solar? Should we lower night-time tariffs or subsidise life-line households? Should we instead export power to Uganda at night and import during the day? Will tariffs go up or down? Should KPLC’s monopoly be lifted (bad idea incidentally)? How do we grow demand (this is only way tariffs will come down)?

The truth is LTWP is the disruptive entity that has shaken the core of Kenya’s energy sector and opened it up to a level of scrutiny never witnessed before. It has shone a light on how traditional infrastructure projects are undertaken.

It has demonstrated the benefits of public-private partnerships. It has shown the power of people and a government determined to make a difference. We were not perfect, nor was any other stakeholder involved. But, together, we came through. To those silent supporters–you made a difference.

And if the country has not thanked you we do, and your children and Kenyans in the future will thank you too.

Mr Fazal is a director of Lake Turkana Wind Power

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