Power supply in western Kenya is expected to stabilise following President Kibaki’s commissioning of a 60 megawatt hydro-electric power project on Sondu Miriu river last Friday.
The additional capacity brings relief to businesses and other power consumers who are currently bearing high tariffs arising from an increased cost of generating electricity using expensive oil based thermal plants.
The Sh19 billion ($249 million) Sondu Miriu plant has been built over the last one decade and was funded through a Japanese loan as well as KenGen’s internal revenues.
The power stations on Tana River, which under normal conditions account for more than 70 per cent of Kenya’s hydro electricity production, are currently experiencing a sharp decline due to prolonged drought.
The power plant diverts water from the main river channel through a 6.2 kilometre tunnel into a surface mounted pipeline to the power station where it turns turbines to generate electricity.
The water returns to the Sondu river approximately 13km downstream.Construction work for the Sondu Miriu power plant began in 1999. The plant was one of the three developments proposed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in its 1985 master plan.
The others were Magwagwa Multipurpose Dam scheme with a 120 megawatt capacity, and the Kano Plain Irrigation Scheme targeting up to 14,390 hectares. Plans to construct a dam at Magwagwa to beef up the water levels has however, yet to take off.
Construction of another power station with a capacity of 21 megawatts on the same river is progressing well. It is estimated to cost Sh3 billion.
“The Magwagwa Multi-purpose Project should also be explored for the purpose of generating more electricity and the vast potential for irrigation,” said President Kibaki.
Authorities say efforts are under way to procure alternative means of generating energy other than the drought prone hydro-power generation.
Apart from Sondu, the country plans to spend $8 billion (about Sh640 billion) on 2,000 MW by 2013 — 500 MW geothermal, 600 MW of clean coal, 800 MW from wind turbines, 30 to 50 MW generated as a bi-product of sugar and 30 MW hydroelectricity.
Other confirmed energy projects include Mumias Sugar’s co-generation (26 MW), Iberafrica extensions (82.5MW), Rabai (88.6 MW), Aeolus wind (50 MW), Lake Turkana Wind (300 MW), Ngong wind (5.1 MW), Kiambere upgrade (20 MW), Tana redevelopment ((10 MW), Olkaria II 3rd unit (35 MW), New Kipevu (100 MW), Sangoro hydro (21 MW), Coal project (300 MW), Kindaruma 3rd Unit (25 MW), Olkaria IV (140 MW), and imports from Ethiopia (400 MW).
Once the plants are implemented, the installed capacity in the national grid will double in the next seven years. According to the national power development master plan, ongoing power generation projects will inject an additional 1,623 MW in the period 2009 to 2015, against a forecast demand of 2,242MW by 2015.
The additional generation capacity will also enable the retirement of the emergency power, 50 MW, in December. Agrekko cannot be retired now to cushion the country from a shortage of electricity, with its attendant rationing. Back in 2001, NGOs opposed construction of the Sondu Miriu project.