Partnership to start Lesotho wind power

LESOTHO: Two developers have created a partnership to build the first ever wind farm in the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho. The plant is expected to provide one-third of the country's electricity.

South Africa's NETGroup Consultancy and Lesotho's Powerdev Group signed a joint agreement in December with the government of Lesotho for the construction of the $87 million wind farm with a 30MW capacity at Letseng-La-Terai in Mokhotlong district some 400 kilometres north-east of the country's capital Maseru.

Construction of the wind farm is due to begin in October. Once completed, it will increase Lesotho's electricity output to 90MW, giving it the highest wind power capacity per person in Africa with 64 watts, way ahead of Morocco's 9.4. The country is rich in diamonds and has several electricity-intensive mines. It is a net importer of electricity from South Africa.

"This is an exciting project and it brings with it huge technological challenges for Lesotho," says Lehlohonolo Khoboko, a consultant contracted by NETGroup and Powerdev, in Maseru, during the signing of an agreement between the developers and the government of Lesotho.

Negotiations are ongoing with wind turbine suppliers including Vergnet of France, Spain's Gamesa and Danish Vestas.

The developers have yet to confirm whether they have signed a power-purchase agreement with the state power utility, Lesotho Electricity Company. But they have revised their initial plan of buying 80-metre wind turbine towers and are sourcing 60-metres ones instead. "This was done because the country's roads have too many tight bends to transport anything bigger," Khoboko said. The wind farm is sited some 3,000 metres above sea level.

"With the shorter towers, we would now be employing smaller gearboxes for our wind turbines. We will have more turbines deployed to produce the same energy output as originally planned."

Lesotho is still grappling with the issue of incentives for potential wind energy sector investors. The mountainous independent kingdom is yet to introduce a financial model that would give developers access to financing for their projects. Both NETGroup and Powerdev have indicated they are engaged in negotiations with lending institutions, although no names have been released.

"We are not looking back now; it is up to the government and the electricity company to stretch their arms beyond the Lesotho boundaries and market the country as a potential green energy supplier for the whole region," says Khoboko.

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