Tower Power plans biomass plants

Kenyan electricity provider Tower Power is to build two biomass power plants in the country.

One facility will provide 30MW of power and will be built at Marigat in the Baringo District. The second plant will be provide 12MW and is planned for Mariakani in the Kwale District.

Construction is due to begin in March and the projects will come online by November 2014.

The developments will use Mathenge as a feedstock, a plant that is grown locally and is able to be converted into a power source.

An Indian company has carried out research into mathenge, discovering that the raw material can be used for electricity generation and can be sourced from nearby.

 ‘In India mathenge is used in over 20 villages as feedstock for power generation and so far it is the most efficient source of power for these villages, providing 80% of the energy needs,’ Damaris Akoth, agronomist at Tower Power, says. ‘In Kenya there have been projects that use mathenge as fuel in the form of charcoal and it has been productive in the sense that the quality of firewood is very good and it has tried to control the plant’s invasive nature. The only down-side with these projects is that they do not earn the locals enough income to sustain their lives thus the reason that the invaded regions are regarded as poor.’

Mathenge covers close to 200,000ha in 15 districts in Kenya and is recorded as having one of the highest calorific values in biomass plants. It records a 5,000kcal/kg and it produces high heat values even when freshly cut. It grows naturally without any added human effort and is a hardy plant that survives in drought conditions. Although thorny, it is fairly easy to harvest at 18 months as the stems are small.

Although, following an environmental assessment, a number of concerns were raised about the developments, including:

  • Increased demand for resources like water
  • There might be increased pollution from dust during construction
  • Socio and cultural disintegration
  • Human wildlife conflict
  • Loss of grazing fields
  • Displacement of people
  • Noise and sewage disposal
  • Introduction of invasive plant species

However the overall assessment was that the development would have a positive effect on the community because it would create jobs for the local area, it would spur on other business development and would improve security in the region.

‘The area designated for the project has minimal human settlement as it is a forest area. Also there are no animal reservations within the designated plant site. Our activities will source water from the Perkerra River which is annual and is also being used for irrigation in the area,’ says. ‘Our studies have shown that our activities will have minimal impact on the supply of water to the community and the irrigation scheme. We will be using the Rankine cycle which basically recycles the water initially used thus there will be minimal requirement of fresh water in our activities.’

The company now plans to begin with the Marigat plant development, which will be built on 45 acres and will also carry out feasibility studies on the feedstock located in Taveta, Garissa and Tana.

Tower Power is also considering sourcing biomass from site clearance, periodical cuttings and other biomass that is leftover from biofuel production carried out by another local company, Vital Bioenergy.

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