Will Africa’s biggest wind power project transform Kenya’s growth?

(CNN) – Kenya has stepped up its efforts to transform 40,000 acres of land into a wind farm, in a bid to meet growing demand for electricity.

The 300 MW Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which is being developed in the country’s North-East, hopes to produce 20% of the country’s current installed electricity generating capacity when it comes online in 2016.

The $694 million project achieved full financial close in December 2014, making it the largest private investment in Kenyan history.

“The success of this project, even though it has taken a long time to become successful, will inspire confidence in investors,” says William Macpherson, sub-Saharan African energy analyst at African Energy Consultancy. “It’s a renewable plant — which is harder to get right than other power plants — and that it looks like it will be online relatively soon shows the government has got its priorities right.”

The project is one part of the country’s ambitious project to add 5,000 MW of power onto the grid in the next three years.

An international consortium of lenders and producers, which includes the African Development Bank, British company Aldwych International and Standard Bank, is aiming to install 365 wind turbines. The 52-meter blade span windmills will take advantage of high winds in the remote area.

These breezy conditions are set to cause a jobs windfall. Over the 32 months when the hardware will be installed and new roads built, the project will employ as many as 2,500 people on a temporary basis. Once the wind farm is up and running, 200 people will be employed at the site on a full-time basis throughout the operating period.

And such confidence in Kenya’s power sector was badly needed after disappointments elsewhere. The Dongo Kundu power plant near Mombasa has suffered long delays after the procurement process failed to produce a viable partner for the government, who wanted to build the Liquified Natural Gas facility in just 18 months.

“If all goes well with the Lake Turkana project, as we expect, it will relieve some of the pressure on the country’s energy targets,” explains Macpherson.

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