With its spectacular jade waters ringed by ochre red volcanic hills, Lake Turkana, a desert lake in Kenya’s rugged northerly corner provided a wonderful spot for Dutchman Willem Dolleman’s annual fishing expeditions in his adopted homeland.
But Dolleman’s trips were always ruined by the difficulty of finding somewhere to stay in a vastly underdeveloped area where tour lodges are located hundreds of miles apart.
Every time he pitched his camp in the evening, a violent gust of wind would uproot the tent sending it into the vanishing horizon. He ended up spending numerous nights in his car.
“Willem constantly told us that someone had to do something to harness the incredible wind power he encountered in the area,” said Carlo van Wageningen, a business partner to Dolleman who is now taking part in a consortium that is constructing Africa’s largest windfarm.
“The problem was that the conditions were not right because at the time in the 1980s and 90s diesel was relatively cheap and it made economic sense for Kenya to source its power from thermal sources.”
Things changed in 2004 when the price of oil climbed and many countries with steep fuel import bills, such as Kenya, began to look seriously at alternative energy sources to provide their power needs.
Still, when Wageningen and his partners approached Kenyan government officials with a proposal to establish a 310 megawatt (MW) windfarm – equal to 20% of the country’s installed electricity generating capacity – on the shores of Lake Turkana, most dismissed it as a fantasy.
Loiyangalani district in Marsabit county where the southern tip of the lake is located is one of Kenya’s most remote and historically marginalised regions, about 1,200km (750 miles) from the main seaport in Mombasa and roughly 600km from the capital, Nairobi.
There were no paved roads anywhere near the lake and the nearest transmission grid lay some 428 kilometres away.
“Everybody thought we were a bunch of looneys because of its size: 310MW of installed capacity in an area which is extremely remote and where there is nothing. No roads, no other type of infrastructure: that made it to many people a pipedream but left us to develop the project unhindered by politics or other interests.”