I saw pepper on the lush green northern part of the Ngong Hills. Wind turbines sit as beautiful dots on the already panoramic view of the hills. The arabesque pose of the ballet dancer found itself in the blades of a wind turbine head above me. I was David and the wind turbine tower was Goliath. These tall, strong structures were a sight to behold. Two small boys engaged in a game of tapo (tag) across from where I walked.
A walk to the wind farm from Ngong town takes roughly twenty five minutes. Talking to residents along the way, not many were particularly familiar with the workings of the farm until I encountered James Sululu and Joseph Kirrinkol. If nothing betrayed their maasai heritage, they needed only speak.
James is tall, dark and his English came to the fore with a bit of a strong maasai accent. Joseph is also tall but lighter skinned with a less pronounced accent and was eager to engage in conversation about the wind farm. They have lived next to the wind farm since before it inception, since they were boys.
Where Kenya relies highly on hydro for its electricity needs and this can be severely hampered by fluctuation in rainfall causing expensive power rationing; green energy in the form of renewable resources such as wind farming is a cheaper alternative albeit with a lower energy output. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics as at 2014 hydro sources of electricity generated 3569 GWh of energy while wind generated 17.0 GWh. Other sources such as thermal oil and geo thermal generated 2585.2 and 2917.4 GWh respectively.
Driven by heat energy from the sun, colossal convection currents in the earth’s atmosphere produce wind. The green factor is found in the fact that as long as the sun is present, wind will always be available. There are no fuel costs when using wind. Pollution does not occur with wind power. It does not produce harmful gases or other pollutants.
One wind turbine takes up a small plot of land and so land surrounding a small wind farm can be used for agricultural purposes such as farming. Wind farms make for an interesting feature of a landscape though this may be arguable. Remote areas which cannot access the electricity power grid can use wind turbines for their electricity supply.
Wind turbines are also available in a range of sizes and this means that a wide range of people and businesses can use them. Lastly climate change which is a threat to wildlife is mitigated by wind energy which reduces CO2 emissions and avoids the consumption of billions of gallons of water annually.
The cliché, ‘thank God for Mother Nature,’ applies well in the above regard. James and Joseph can however tell you that although sometimes clichés express sentiments best, in this case it is with a sense of half heartedness. In his half heartedness Joseph comes up with the summation, “If you are going to do something, do it well.”
For the 22 years that the wind farm in Ngong, Kajiado County has been in existence, James and Joseph can appreciate that wind provides a good source of electricity, is environmentally friendly and contributes to the development of a third world country like Kenya but they opine that better consultation with the surrounding community could have been done. That’s what Joseph is alluding to with, “… do it well.”
The surrounding community and specifically James and Joseph have experienced some negative effects with the installation of the turbines and most especially the first four turbines which they say are within a 100 meter perimeter of their homes.
These effects include poor mobile phone network, noise pollution (the vibrating noise produced by wind turbines is not only a nuisance but can cause sleep disruption and therefore stress), when the turbines are put off it can be quite frightening as it becomes silent very suddenly, the shadow of the turning turbine as seen inside a house can be disturbing and James and Joseph worry that young children can get eye problems and coughs. Furthermore for James and Joseph unlike me the beautiful landscape of the Ngong Hill has been disfigured by this wind farm what with soil erosion as well.
Other challenges posed by dependence on wind energy comprise that it can be unreliable and wind turbines are unpredictable. Birds can get killed or injured when they fly into turbines and so it is important for thorough environmental assessment of all ecological impacts that may come with the erection of a wind farm be undertaken. This way major migration routes, important feeding, breeding and roosting areas of bird species can be avoided.
Still, the erection of the wind farm has provided opportunities for employment for the neighboring community. Joseph is one beneficiary. He was employed as a health and safety officer for three months. Others have been employed as security guards. Owner Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited (KenGen), the leading electric power generation company in Kenya has also built two classes for a school in the area and a borehole. They have also planted grass to curb soil erosion and to reduce the rising of dust especially during the dry season.
The Ngong wind farm began with two wind turbines commissioned in 1993. These first two turbines were a donation from the Belgian government and would help prove that the northern part of the Ngong Hills has a favorable wind regime. And so it was that in August of 2009, the second phase of the farm was commissioned. This second phase has a capacity of 5.1 MW of power.
In 2014, Iberdrola Ingenieria in a consortium with Gamesa, a global technological leader in the wind industry added 13.6 MW to the second phase under the Ngong II project. They installed 16 Spanish manufactured G52 Gamesa turbines completing the project on a turnkey basis over a period of one year.
Through this Ngong II initiative a new electricity distribution system including a high voltage network, with 15 new kilometres of overhead and underground power lines will be established. Even more, four substations - Athi River, Isinya, Ngong and Koma Rock producing 220 kilovolts (kV) in each case will be put up.
Lastly, an extension to the most important substation in the city, Dandora, also producing 220 kV will be constructed. The Ngong II wind farm is the largest wind farm in East Africa. KenGen plans to increase the capacity of the Ngong wind farm to 25.5 MW.
The government of Kenya is on an ambitious journey to add 5000 MW on the national grid with renewable facilities like the Ngong wind farm. Yet another project in this line is the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project which will host 365 turbines. Other wind farms in Africa include the Tarfaya wind farm in Morocco, the Ashegoda wind farm in Ethiopia and Sere and Gouda wind farms in South Africa.
Sometimes only a dash of pepper makes the food uber delicious. As James and Joseph tell, living near a wind farm can be quite a challenge but forget not the benefits. Half kudos!