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No watts from Menengai a decade after the promise

NATIONAL
By Kennedy Gachuhi | May 4th 2021
A Geothermal development Company steam well in Menengai, Nakuru County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In February 2011, Geothermal Development Company (GDC) began drilling of the first well at Menengai Crater to tap the naturally occurring geothermal energy. 

The project gave hopes to Kenyans that the cost of electricity would drop. It was set to inject 400 Megawatts (MW) to the national grid  by 2014 and 800MW by 2016 when completed. 

“Menengai has a geothermal potential of 1,600MW. It is expected to produce 800MW by 2018. The Menengai Well One (MW-01) started discharging on May 12, 2011,” the then GDC chairman Paul Gondi said. 

Fast forward to 2019, the company’s annual report and financial statement issued another target of 1,065MW of electricity to the national grid by 2030. 

“These include 465MW at Menengai, 300MW in Baringo and 300MW in Suswa. In Menengai 105MW awaits construction of a power plant, drilling has commenced for a 60MW plant and project preparation for the additional 300MW is in progress,” said company’s Chief Executive Officer Jared Othieno. 

But as the country is patiently waiting, on February 17, 2021, Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui was hopeful on the Menengai project for the planned industrial park to be set up in Rongai. 

“As facilitators of development, we signed an MoU with GDC and our main role was to ensure all components for the industrial park have been put in place. We have done our part. We call for other players to speed up power generation from the crater,” said Kinyanjui.

A Geothermal development Company steam well in Menengai, Nakuru County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In August 2020, Nakuru County Commissioner Erastus Mbui noted that the state-owned company had so far spent Sh62 billion from its Sh115 billion allocation, having sunk 43 wells out of which 24 have been tested to have the capacity of producing 165MW. The rest are still undergoing tests. 

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At the project, the primary role for GDC was to drill the wells, provide water, set up a steam gathering system and deliver the steam to the power generating plants. 

Three independent power producers (IPPs), among them Quantum East Africa Power Limited (QEAPL), Sosian Energy and Orpower 22 were selected to harness energy from the steam under a Build Own and Operate (BOO) basis. 

Kenya Transmission Company (Ketraco) was to set up a transmission line that would deliver the energy to the national grid. 

Exactly 10 years down the line, not a single megawatt of electricity has been produced at Menengai. 

In January 2018, the then GDC Managing Director Johnson ole Nchoe announced that QEAPL would be breaking ground for the first 35 MW power plant in March of the same year followed by Sosian Energy. 

“Both IPPs have received their Letters of Support and we trust that we will have banks on board to provide Letters of Credit. Our steam gathering system is 90 per cent complete and by March all should be done,” ole Nchoe said during the January 2018 annual staff review meeting. 

The two companies were to construct power plants at a cost of Sh25.5 billion. The African Development Bank (AfDB) would be a major financier of the projects. 

In April 2018, AfDB Executive Director Calleb Nyamajeje, while on a tour of Menengai Crater, revealed that they had already pumped Sh12 billion into the project.

Despite the funding, the IPPs were yet to set up the power plants, a delay which ole Nchoe attributed to them being skeptical that the wells capacity would be tenable.

To ascertain the situation, AfDB contracted an independent consultant, West Jec of Japan, to conduct a study on the steam capacity of the wells.

During the visit, ole Nchoe announced that the steam report by the consultant had given the project a clean bill of health, indicating that there was enough steam for the production of 105 MW sustainable for over two decades.

“Steam report done by West Jec consultants has demonstrated that the wells have exceeded the required amount of steam by 20 per cent. The production of 105MW can be sustained for the next 25 years,” said ole Nchoe.

Dr Nyamajeje expressed confidence in the project, adding that the bank was ready to offer further financial support.

A Geothermal development Company steam well in Menengai, Nakuru County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“After assessing the project we have noted that it has met the bank’s principle on performance-based allocation. The bank guarantees the IPPs of its support during this project,” said Nyamajeje.

In December 2016, Ketraco commenced construction of two substations and a 13km transmission line from Menengai Crater to Soilo junction, which were complete by early 2018.

“The project includes the construction of a 132kV substation at Menengai, extension of the bay in the existing Soilo substation and transmission line infrastructure connecting the two. In the future the substation will evacuate 400MW via 400kV lines,” Ketraco announced in March 2016.

Ketraco Managing Director Fernandes Barasa described the project as challenging, citing the loose volcanic soils and fissures along the route where the transmission lines and substations are.

“The cavities and fault lines run across the entire substation area, some deep to upwards of three metres. It has been a challenging project for us. It called for design and construction of a concrete raft,” said Barasa.

With all the infrastructure set, all eyes are now on the IPPs who to date are yet to set up power plants at the crater.

Sosian Energy, for instance, confirms that they had completed designs for their power plants and signed contacts with the relevant agencies.

“The power plant shall consist of various components; buildings, turbines and generators, pumps, condensers, gas removal system, cooling tower, electrical and control system and other balance of system elements,” the company indicates on its website.

“All the necessary permits and contractual documentation has been issued. Sosian Energy has signed an EPC and O and M Contract with Kaishan Group,” the company adds.

Othieno has, however, revealed that GDC was in the process of finalising financial commitments with the IPPs for them to commence setting up power plants.

“We participated in and facilitated the process of financial closure for Quantum Power East Africa and Sosian Energy to enable them commence construction of a 35MW power plant, each at Menengai. Efforts are underway to facilitate OrPower 22 towards achieving financial close,” said Othieno.

Two years into steam exploration in Silali, Baringo County, GDC in September 2019 announced success after the company struck steam at Paka fields and continued to Korosi area where in mid-January this year they commenced the drilling of a second well.

At the Silali project, the company is targeting to tap at least 300MW in the first phase with the support of German development bank-Kfw, Geothermal Risk Mitigation Fund, Jica and United Nations Environment Programme.

The company estimates that the three sites have the potential of generating 3,000MW upon completion.  

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