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December 28, 2023

Kenyan: Mixed Expectations as a 50MW Garissa Solar Power Plant Project is carried out

By Kenyan journalist Lilian Mukoche. First published in WorldPulse.

The Garissa Solar Power Plant in Kenya is the largest grid-connected solar power in East and Central Africa. Grid-connected power refers to electricity generated by a power source, such as solar panel system, wind turbine, or conventional power plant, which is connected to and integrated into a larger electrical grid. In this context, the “grid” refers to the network of power generation, transmission lines, substations, and distribution networks that deliver electricity from various sources to homes, businesses, and industries. This is according to the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC).

The construction of this power plant was completed in 2018 by the China Jiangxi Corporation for International Economic and Technical Co-operation (CJIC) and commissioned in 2018 by the former president Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Solar Power Plant project developed by the Kenya Rural Electrification Authority (KEREC) required an investment of KES13 billion (US$ 93,357,270.50) which they relied on funding from Exim Bank of China to build.

Image: Osman Ahmed Maalim.

This was necessitated by the need for steady power and low costs of electricity by the Kenyan people. Residents of Garissa County and other counties in the dry areas are direct beneficiaries for they now comfortably access uninterrupted power supply in an area that was frequently marred with power outages.

The solar power project was also intended to promote the growth of the Garissa region, particularly in terms of job creation, provision of health, education and security services to aid in the reduction of terrorism and extremism in the region. Garissa County happens to be in the Northern part of Kenya and always marred with terrorist attack-related incidences which become more exploitable when darkness is all over. This necessitates the need of electricity. The Solar Plant Project was therefore, part of the REREC’S Corporate Social Responsibility activities implemented to benefit communities living around for purposes of enhancing ownership of the project.

Mohammed Dubeti a young businessman and youth representative, who owns a shop selling food stuff near the Garissa Solar Plant however says that during his time as a job seeker, he is yet to benefit from any opportunities in the solar plant. "Whenever you visit the plant to ask for job opportunities, you’re always referred to the area Member of Parliament who is not easy to access,” says Mohammed. He adds that they have waited for nearly five years to see the fruits of the project.

According to Hani Abdul, a resident of Raya Location, the solar power plant project has enabled job opportunities for young people in a variety of fields, such as security officers, cleaners, and kitchen chefs. However, there are other views that the project falls short of their expectations because, as a community, they had hoped to gain more access to a free power supply as per the agreements made when granting the project's land use permits, but this has not happened.

“Currently we pay high power [electricity] costs because we use tokens and wondering why the Solar Plant is not supplying us with free power as earlier agreed when surrendering land for the project,” Abdul says.

Osman Hassan is married and a father of three children and owns a fabric shop in Garissa Town. He is also a political leader who vied for a member of the Country Assembly seat in the 2022 general election. According to him, the community donated land for free for the solar plant construction and in return, the community was to be given free hospitals, schools and electricity.

Hassan says although Baar Rahma dispensary was constructed and opened in 2020, it is ineffective currently due to a lack of [adequate] facilities, nurses, doctors, and medication. He blames the Kenyan government for negligence, as a handful number of staff members at the facility were not paid a salary for three consecutive months in 2022 and opted to quit. He adds that, medicine is never supplied in that facility making the operations difficult.

Confirming Hassan’s claims, the area community elder Mohammed Abdi says the community land was donated by the community at a smaller fee which is near to giving it out for free and the schools were never built and therefore their children go to the few public schools built by the national government, something they are not proud of as a community.

He adds saying that although the community agreed to the construction of the solar plant and were paid little money for their land, without the other benefits promised to them, they regret the choices made wishing that they were sensitized first as a community so as not to give out their land.

On electricity, Suleiman Noor a resident and a former teacher at Raya Primary school says not everyone in the Community has electricity for the connection fees to the Grid are expensive and they cannot afford the fees, adding that the ones who managed to connect the power to their homes still get huge electricity bills for consumption, all because the promise for the free electricity was not realized.

The community members call upon the stakeholders including the Ministry of Energy to grant permanent employment instead of temporary contracts, to communities and that the built dispensary is rendered operational for the community in accordance with the agreement.

Ayan Abdul, a resident of Raya Location in Garrissa County, a mother of three boys and a housewife says that her hopes just as many other women in the Raya location were built up when the Garissa Solar plant was built for they were sure of securing manual jobs like cooking and Cleaning work at the plant but unfortunately this was not the case. “The promised job opportunities from the Kenyan government through the ministry of energy as a result of the solar plant have not been realized as per my expectation and this is very unfair to us who were looking forward to earning a living from the Garissa solar plant project”. She asks the national government to intervene so that they can benefit the community.

Affirming her sentiments, Hassan Ilgwemo, a mother of five children says she was part of the committee formed to represent the interests of her community members in negotiations with the company that build the power plant and expresses her dissatisfaction on how things turned out.  

“While on the committee, we proposed many projects like having teachers in our schools, nurses for our health facilities, but none was done. As women, we expected jobs like cooking and cleaning but it never happened yet we thought we would get this work to support our families during drought.

Nasir Ahmed aged 29, a taxi driver in Garissa County and a father of one says the Garissa Solar Plant is a disappointment to him since he had high expectations, especially for his work as a taxi driver.

“The news of the solar plant in Raya location, brought a lot of joy to the community, especially to me and my fellow taxi drivers. We were very sure of being hired as drivers, a position we were promised by the Ministry of Energy when the project started but unfortunately, this didn’t happen because other people were employed instead to offer driving services. We are however still hopeful that we will be able to get these jobs at the Garissa solar plant someday.” Says Ahmed.

Raya Community residents say they gave more than 200 hectares of their land to give way the construction of the Garissa Solar Power Plant.

The Chinese firm was not willing to share any information on this matter referring us back to the Kenyan Government because from their understanding according to one of the company representatives in Kenya who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue through a phone interview, their task was just putting up the Solar Plant and any other promises were made by the government of Kenya.

The Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC), website clearly elaborates in details various corporate responsibility initiatives that were to be undertaken as a result of constructing the Garissa Solar Plant. This is under the corporate social responsibility initiatives.

According to the Kenyan Ministry of Energy and Petroleum State Department for Energy, as of 30 June 2022, 8,919,440 households were connected to electricity via the Garissa Solar Plant which is a plus for the community. This is per the KPLC annual statement report 2021-2022.

The report further states that the power generated by the Garissa Solar Plant capacity is 50MW and is connected to the National Grid via the sub-station in Garissa Town.

As of February 2022, 89.0 percent of local generation was from renewable sources. The figure includes the main grid and off-grid. However, the figure does not include private mini-grids and solar home systems. This is according to the Energy Ministry’s monthly Leading Economic Indicator (Table 15(a) report.

The Ministry of Energy Communication officer, Vivian Simwa says Kenya’s potential when it comes to solar is 4-6 Kilowatts hours per day. “Currently, I can confidently say that Kenya’s solar potential is 4-6 Kilowatts hours per day.”

As for the community expectations, Vivian says that the Ministry of energy through the County Government of Garrisa is working out ways to address all issues raised to ensure the people have access to quality health and education services.

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