Nakuru bets on geothermal energy to revive its once thriving industries

The Eveready East Africa Ltd in Nakuru’s Industrial Area

The Eveready East Africa Ltd in Nakuru’s Industrial Area. The factory officially closed on October 1, 2014 after 47 years of manufacturing batteries. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Currently, geothermal energy contributes up to 49 per cent of the energy consumed in the country, a ratio that is set to go up.

A walk into the expansive Industrial area in Nakuru City feels like a grim tour of a graveyard.

In its heydays, Industrial Area was the soul of Nakuru, with thriving industries that offered employment to thousands of youth.

But its glory days are long gone as the once humming manufacturing hub has been dead for more than two decades.

“I can’t imagine an industrial area in a City like Nakuru without vibrant industries. It is a boring City. My dad worked at Eveready, and that motivated me to study electrical engineering, but today Eveready is no more,” says Martin Kivuva, an electrical technician who we found hawking electrical goods along the busy Geoffrey Kamau highway.

Giant factories such as Eveready, Milling Corporation, Elianto and Sam Con Limited once roared to the delight of many that relied on their operations for their livelihoods, but now, their long dead yards have been converted into go-downs.

Some of the expansive industrial premises that housed factories have been sold or turned into recycling centres for plastic waste while others have been converted into residential premises.

Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK), which is still standing, has been reduced to a shell as there are no raw materials to crush.

From a distance, as you pass the virtually deserted General Stanley Mathenge Road, what is left standing at PPCK factory that was the pride of Nakuru is equipment that was used during the colonial era by white settlers like Lord Delamare and Lord Egerton before Kenya got its independence.

The only rumbling factory is the fertiliser-making firm Mea Limited, which is the sole serious manufacturing firm standing tall in the midst of dead factories. The dotted lines of food eateries that fed the army of workers at the industrial area have melted away and a few job seekers crisscrossing the area don’t give the place a second glance.

But there is hope that Nakuru City could reclaim its lost glory and become a new centre for entrepreneurship, manufacturing, wealth creation, and employment.

The commissioning of the first Independent Power Producer (IPP) at the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) drilling wells in Menengai Hills after 14 years, may see a return of investors and a revival of a more vibrant industrial area in the coming future.

The injection of 35MW into the national grid from the Menengai drilling wells set to start at the end of this month could be a game changer in the region. The impact will be massive as an industrial park will be constructed on the edge of Menengai Hill where industrial processing will take place, as well as leisure and recreation activities. The power will also be used to heat greenhouses and fishponds, a factor that will boost agriculture and manufacturing in a fundamental way.

GDC and the devolved unit plan to set aside about 4,000 acres of land where the industries will be constructed. This direct use of the geothermal energy concept is set to change the face of Nakuru City and the county at large, creating more jobs and turning Menengai, once barren, into some sort of industrial valley.

The financially struggling Nakuru County will get a slice in rates from the three power plants set to be commissioned here.

Governor Susan Kihika has pledged to inject Sh1 billion into the industrial park.

“The groundbreaking of Globeleq power plant cement and the presence of IPPs such as Sosian and Globeleq is a clear indication that Nakuru County has an enabling environment for local and international investment in energy generation,” said Governor Kihika, adding that her administration, in collaboration with the GDC, is keen to develop a framework for local and international industrial developers to accelerate investment in the green economy within the county.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said Menengai Wells is an opportunity for Kenya to exploit its full geothermal potential to meet its international obligation on decarbonising.

“The government is keen on lowering the cost of power. Electricity from this power plant in Menengai will cost only 7 US cents, and this will help spur economic development and reduce the cost of doing business,” said the DP.

The project is expected to produce 105MW, which is capable of meeting the power demand of the entire Western Kenya region from the Rift Valley to the border of Uganda. Menengai therefore is monumental, and the three independent power producers - Sosian Energy, Globeleq, and OR Power 22, which were contracted by GDC, have their work cut out. Each of the three IPPs is required to finance, design, construct and install, operate, and maintain a 35MW power plant for a period of 25 years. GDC will supply the steam to the power plants for conversion to electricity.

According to GDC Menengai, geothermal resources will serve Kenya for the next 100 years - Kenya has a vast geothermal potential estimated at 10,000MW. Currently, geothermal energy contributes up to 49 per cent of the energy consumed in the country.

Sosian Energy, under a Public-Private Partnership, is expected to inject 35MW of electricity to the national grid in phases.w

According to Sosian Energy Director Kigen Moi, the first phase of the 35MW will see 22MW of power being injected into the national grid by the end of this month.

GDC Managing Director Paul Ngugi said the state agency is committed to helping lower the cost of power in Kenya.

“Our work is to remove the upfront risk so that investors like Globeleq or Sosian and others can swiftly put up power plants,” said Mr Ngugi, adding that the second phase project will target 60MW and the third phase 300 MW.

The proximity of the GDC project to Nakuru City is seen by many as an opportunity for investors who had abandoned Nakuru to troop back as they are assured of cheap electricity.

Unlike other geothermal projects like Olkaria, the Menengai project has many advantages that would attract investors.

“There is a ready-made workforce, and this gives investors who will tap into geothermal power from Menengai a head start and competitive edge compared to Olkaria, which is 30km away from Naivasha Town,” said Mr George Kamau, an environmentalist assessment expert.

He added: “Unlike Olkaria which is in the game park with restricted development, Menengai has no wildlife, and Small and Medium Enterprises that will be set up at the Industrial Park will thrive well.”