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Kenya reaps the wind

Much needed energy to be generated by first wind farm to open atop the Ngong Hills.

NGONG, Kenya — From a distance the highlands look like a giant fist resting on the landscape, a series of knuckles forming the peaks of the Ngong Hills. From the top of the escarpment Kenya’s capital Nairobi spreads out to the east, the breathtaking Great Rift Valley to the west.

Maasai herdsmen shepherd their cattle across the hilltop pastures, some dressed in traditional colorful red tartan-print blankets, beads round their necks, earlobes hung with heavy rings, a stick in one hand and leather sandals on their feet.

Every afternoon the gentle morning breeze that sweeps up from the Rift Valley grows into a strong wind and by nightfall it has become a blustering gale. Now, Kenya’s government hopes to harness that power. Next month the country’s first wind farm will open on the top of the
Ngong Hills.

For now the six 165-foot tall steel shafts with their 82-foot fiberglass blades are shiny white, stark against the horizon, and motionless.

Jackson Odhiambo, 30, is an IT technician working for a company that hopes to bring fiber optic cables and broadband internet to Kenya for the first time later this year. One recent morning he had driven up to take a look at the turbines that now watch over the hills.

“These will generate power which is good and with wind it doesn’t pollute the air or disturb people with the noise. There are a lot of advantages,” he said.

“Kenyans won’t mind the landscape being changed because there is such a need for cheap power,” Odhiambo went on, adding, “and they look nice.”

Nearby a bunch of cows nibbled at the grass beneath one of the gleaming white towers. Their owner — a herdsman who had walked all the way from neighboring Tanzania with his cattle — had no idea what the strange sculptures were for but thought they looked great, a glimpse
of the future.

Hezron Ng’iela certainly thinks the wind turbines are the future. He is the senior projects engineer for wind and renewable energy at KenGen, the state-owned power company responsible for the wind farm at Ngong and, if tests go well, at 11 more sites across Kenya.

“We have in Kenya a lot of wind potential, probably enough to sustain us for a number of years if we exploit it properly,” Ng’iela enthused. “Right now we are gathering data with a view to developing other wind farms in the future.” That will include a further seven turbines on
top of the Ngong Hills.

“We are going more and more green,” he said excitedly.