American firm to supply 2MW from ‘Mathenge’

‘Mathenge’ tree outside Cummins Power plant in Baringo. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA
‘Mathenge’ tree outside Cummins Power plant in Baringo. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA 

American engineering firm Cummins Incorporated will from next month inject two megawatts of power into the national grid, generating electricity from a toxic shrub popularly referred to as Mathenge that predominantly grows in arid areas.

Cummins becomes Kenya’s second biomass power plant to connect to the national grid after a Naivasha flower firm announced a similar move last week.

The Columbus-based firm has completed the initial phase of its 10.8 megawatt biofuel plant in Baringo, which will burn the noxious mathenge tree to generate electricity.

The power plant completed in the initial phase has an installed capacity of 2.4MW.

The owners of the project have signed a power purchase agreement with Kenya Power to supply 2MW to the national grid — enough to light about 8,000 households.

The second phase will see Cummins inject seven megawatts into the national grid.

The Sh2.7 billion ($30 million) mathenge power plant is a joint venture between Cummins Power Generation and British firm Gentec Energy.

“We are only conducting last final tests required before connecting to the local grid. We are looking at some time in March to finish our tests for phase one and start exporting the generated power,” said Cummins Co-generation Kenya managing director Yash Krishna.

The project is set to transform the mathenge tree — whose scientific name is Prosopis Juliflora — from a ‘noxious weed’ as was declared by National Environment Management Authority in December 2008 to ‘cash crop’ status when about 2,000 Baringo households begin supplying Cummins with the tree stems as raw materials for power generation.

It is estimated that households would rake in a net income of about Sh80,000 per year for supplying mathenge tree to the power plant.

“The project generates income for families without any additional monetary costs or inputs from them,” said Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund which has given the project a Sh91 million ($1 million) grant.

Equity Bank is providing 70 per cent of the capital funds required for the mathenge power plant while the remainder has been injected by way of equity from Cummins and the grant from AECF.

Cummins, the independent power producer behind the Baringo mathenge power plant, becomes Kenya’s second electricity generator using biofuel.

Biojoule Kenya, based at a Naivasha horticultural farm, has developed a Sh591 million ($6.5 million) biogas project that will feed the national grid with 2MW of power.

Electricity from the mathenge plant in Baringo will be sold to Kenya Power at a cost of Sh9.16 (¢10) per kilowatt-hour (kWh), nearly a third the cost Kenyans pay for thermal power which costs about Sh25.23 per kWh.