Kenyans are set to enjoy cheaper electricity from September when the region’s largest renewable energy plant is completed.
The Garissa Solar Plant, whose completion date has been revised from December to September, will bring down the cost of electricity to 5.4 cents per unit. It will also help lessen the carbon footprint by reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere by about 43,000 tonnes, says the government.
“We are ahead of schedule and by September it will be on the grid and will then push the cost of power down to 5.4 cents per unit,” said Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter.
The plant consists of about 210,210 PV panels — 300,000 photovoltaic (PV) solar system — of 260 watts each, sitting on 85 hectares, and will be able to generate power capable of lighting around 625,000 homes.
“This is the biggest project in the East African region. It is a break from over-reliance on hydroelectric and geothermal power. Our focus now is on green energy and there can never be any better choice than this,” the minister told the Sunday Nation.
The construction of the solar plant is the result of an initiative by the national government to encourage private investors to put money in solar energy in line with the policy on wind, biomass, small hydro, geothermal, biogas and solar passed by the government in 2010.
The policy, which was revised in 2012, has initially received low response from investors. Construction of the plant is being done by the China Jiangxi International Kenya Ltd engineers.
“The response from private investors was low especially for large scale solar projects who felt the tariffs were insufficient for projects to be viable since they indicated that they do not cover full operational cost, low indexing at 12 per cent which does not match increase on cost incurred, land acquisition, taxation among others,” said Mr Keter.
Data from the ministry indicates that Garissa was until recently powered by a mini-grid, but was connected to the national grid power recently.
As a result, the government says there are plans to extend transmission lines to other areas, including Garissa- Wajir and Garissa-Garsen. This extension is part of what informed the decision to build the power plant in the area.
“Other than boosting the national grid, there are other immediate benefits like offering employment opportunities to the locals and generally the country,” he said.
Other benefits of the project include improved electricity generation and reduced reliance on fossil fuels, savings in foreign exchange on importation of fuel for power generation, significant contributor to the government target of lower cost of power.
In the deal, the power purchase agreement to be signed with Kenya Power is fixed as opposed to private solar, which would enjoy an escalable tariff, technical service (operation and maintenance) for two years, provision of technology transfer to the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) through capacity building.
REA chairman Simon Gicharu said upon completion the solar plant will boost the manufacturing sector, one of the four pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s economic revival strategy.
“Clean energy will drive sustainable economic growth and lift the masses out of poverty,” Dr Gicharu told the Sunday Nation on Friday.
Solar plants are environmentally friendly and have minimal operating and maintenance expenses compared to the traditional diesel stations. REA plans to put more focus on renewable energy for electrification of off-grid areas and households that are far away from the grid.
“To guarantee a most prolonged service life of the solar farm, Garissa Solar Power Plant elected to work with only the best companies in the world in respective areas,” REA said in a statement to the Sunday Nation.