The Importance of Community Engagement in Renewables: A Tale of Two Wind Farms in Kenya

The Importance of Community Engagement in Renewables: A Tale of Two Wind Farms in Kenya

Youth block the Nakuru-Nairobi highway while protesting against the building of a wind park in Kinangop, Nyandarua County. (photo:

Community engagement: the common factor that can determine whether an energy project will come to fruition or be stopped in its tracks by local opposition. As we have seen in New England, Mexico, Kenya, and many other places around the world, engaging with local communities before, during, and after the energy development process can save projects from failure. The crucial importance of community engagement to a successful and profitable energy project, as well as fair and open consultation with communities, lie at the heart of EO's mission to shape more responsible energy development.

When energy developers fail to employ best practices in community engagement or consultation, the outcome is more often than not unfavorable. Two illustrative examples of what community engagement best practices or lack thereof can do to support or doom a renewable energy project can be found in Kenya. Kenya has been identified as one of the countries with the highest potential for wind power generation in Africa. With a huge push to increase energy capacity, responsible energy development is becoming increasingly important in the country.

The Baharini Electra Wind Farm, a 90 megawatt (MW) wind project in Lamu, Kenya faced opposition from local residents throughout its development process. The project, financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), was carried out by Belgian renewable energy developer Electrawind and its local partner, Kenwind. Community objections to the project first arose when over 8,000 Mpeketoni residents were not informed of the project’s intention to acquire their and thus evict them. Further, they were not offered any compensation or alternative for settlement by the government or developers. In response, the residents of Lamu involved the courts, seeking to stop compulsory acquisition of their land for the construction of the Sh23.5 billion ($235 million) wind farm.

After talks with the Lamu County Assembly, the project was approved with a number of conditions including the interests of locals taken into consideration. The developers were required to give priority to the locals during employment. Additionally, following the valuation on the structures on the site, it was established that 259 families on the land would be compensated with payments and alternative resettlement options.

On the other hand, the Kinangop Wind Park (KWP), a 60.8 MW, $115 million project in Kenya, was first proposed in 2012 and was cancelled before it could to go online as scheduled in mid-2015. Because KWP did not work with community landowners, the project was stifled by local opposition. Local opponents in this case also went to the courts, citing the project's proximity to local homes — reportedly as close as 20 metres — as a violation of regulations.

The project, located in the central county of Nyandarua, "was hobbled by disputes with residents over compensation for land," said the developer, African Infrastructure Investment Fund (AIIM). In May 2014 the start of construction "was prevented by civil commotion [...] preventing [the project] from engaging directly with the affected landowners to progress the project," AIIM said. In a statement, KWP developers said that they had failed to reach an agreement with parties in the community. Then in February 2015, KWP cancelled the project due to opposition from local landowners and farmers and admitted to depleted funds, costing shareholders Sh6.7 billion ($66 million).

This all-too-common occurrence for renewable energy developers has a simple solution that is embracing community engagement and integrating free, prior, and informed consent into all projects. As these examples show, ignoring and even battling the neighboring communities will likely end poorly for energy developers. Through community consultation, hearing the concerns and needs of the people who the project will impact, and compensating them fairly kept the Baharini Electra project from suffering devastating losses. Failure to effectively address community concerns through careful and good-faith community engagement ultimately led to the KWP project's costly downfall. Cases like these and so many others exemplify the great value of best practices in community engagement and responsible energy standards like the EO100TM Standard for ensuring safe, responsible, and successful clean energy development around the globe.