Politics Blocks Garissa Waste-To-Energy Project

The Mathenge shrub — known botanically as Prosopis juliflora – is a hazard to livestock and people due to its poisonous thorns.

Plans by Garissa County to build a waste-to-energy plant have hit a brick wall reportedly due to opposition from the national government and the local community.

The county in northeastern Kenya slightly over a year ago signed a partnership deal with Sweden-based VR Holding AB, along with Finnish company WOIMA.

No progress has been made ever since.

“It’s yet to start because of the politics in both the national government and the community,” county government officials responded to our follow-up queries.

The officials, however, didn’t wish to disclose how the national government was standing in the way of the clean energy project.

Upon construction, the plant was to generate electricity and cooking gas for up to 100,000 residents from an invasive and poisonous shrub known locally as Mathenge, and from food waste. Biofertiliser was also expected as a byproduct.

During the signing of the partnership slightly over a year ago, the county government announced: “Waste-to-energy plant is coming up soon. The feedstock will be Mathenge and even food waste. This project can significantly reduce the amount of waste strewn all over, meet the energy needs of our community and most importantly eradicate the Mathenge menace.”

The Mathenge shrub — known botanically as Prosopis juliflora – is a hazard to livestock and people due to its poisonous thorns.

Producing power from the shrub would involve cutting the tree stem into chips, drying them and then burning them at high temperatures under controlled oxygen to avoid complete combustion. The resulting gas would then be used to run specialised generators to produce electricity.

“We are ready to invest in Garissa County. Apart from this offering an environmentally sustainable solution, the project will also create jobs for many people in the county,” VR Holding AB President Victoria Rikede said earlier during the signing ceremony.

In 2017, the Swedish company unsuccessfully expressed interest in building a 600-megawatt (MW) project in the Indian Ocean waters bordering Ras Ngomeni in Malindi, at the Kenyan coast.  It would have been the largest wind power plant in Africa, a position currently held by the 310MW Lake Turkana wind farm in northern Kenya.

Kenya’s Ministry of Energy, however, turned down the request citing lack of a framework for renewable energy projects of that mega scale.

The country’s low electricity demand also informed the rejection of the mega offshore wind park.

Kenya’s current reserve margin of 32% stands way above the global rate of about 15%, meaning the country is not in a hurry to add more plants to the grid. Peak demand is only 1,912MW.

Previous attempts by other firms to turn Mathenge to energy in Kenya have not been successful. American engineering firm Cummins, for instance, unsuccessfully set up a 12 MW Mathenge power plant located in Marigat, Baringo County.

The Baringo Mathenge species turned out to have a lot of moisture, making the feedstock incompatible with the equipment in use.

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