Frustration rises in Kenya over electricity woes

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Chronic power blackouts and higher electricity bills in Kenya are fuelling anger ahead of next year’s presidential election as they push up living costs and cast doubts on the government’s ability to fully implement its long-term economic vision.

In a country where inflation has soared to double-digits and the currency has faced a battering, the economy is shaping up to be a key election issue as voters grow increasingly incensed at the higher cost of living, including massive utility bills for an unreliable service.

Kenyans say their electricity bills have nearly doubled in the last two years. A prolonged drought creating food supply problems has also pushed inflation to above 16 percent in August, from under 5 percent in December, putting further pressure on Kenyans, Reuters reports.

Distribution company Kenya Power announced scheduled three-hour daily cuts for some industrial customers in late July, further evidence of the inability of an ageing power grid reliant on hydro-generation — affected when rain levels fall — to cope with extra demand.
“If you look at the cost, we are not competitive anywhere in the world. We have the highest cost of power,” said Vimal Shah, Managing Director of Bidco, a soap and edible oils manufacturer.

Parliament has responded by forming a select committee on costs of living to look into the problem by, among other things, grilling top executives of power firms.
“They have some impressive goals and it is good to know that long term they have some targets to ensure that the country becomes self-sufficient in energy production but you sense there is a level of casualness,” Ababu Namwamba, chairman of the committee told Reuters after the committee’s sittings.
“You worry that there is a disconnect to the plight of ordinary Kenyans. Even when Kenyans complain about the high cost of power, they don’t really seem to understand what that really means.”
“KENYANS PLEASE LIGHT CANDLES”

Kenya Power and the generation company KenGen are controlled by the government although they do have private shareholders. Both utilities have been ridiculed by Kenyans angry at persistent power cuts. Kenya Power, which rebranded earlier this year from Kenya Power and Lighting Company, used to be known as ‘Kenyans Please Light Candles’.
“Everybody has standby generator which is a waste of time. If you calculate all the diesel generators in the country, you might probably have five to seven megawatt of capacity or more than that,” Shah said.

Officials have set a target of 30,000 megawatt (MW) generation by 2030, the year in which it hopes to become a middle-income country. Kenya currently has capacity of 1,400 MW and is slated to install another 2,000-3,000MW within the next five years.

In the interim, an additional supply of 140MW worth of emergency power is being installed to cut the blackouts and prevent factory production line stoppages.

Officials blame delays in processing security guarantees worth $209 million, demanded by independent power producers, for the precarious energy supply situation.

VISION 3020?

Four independent power-generation projects had been lined up but the government declined to offer investment guarantees because of worries it would put too much strain on the country’s fiscal position.
“We are going to lose output that was being expected and what we are left wondering is why we don’t have a sustainable energy plan yet we are endowed with a lot of potential especially in renewable energy,” said Nashon Adero, an infrastructure policy analyst in Nairobi.

Mugo Kibati, a government official tasked with implementing a national economic plan which envisions a 10 percent per year economic growth rate, said the power problems could make it difficult to meet the target.
“Energy generation is an absolute must. If you don’t address it robustly, it is a risk to our aspirations for economic growth. We need to generate a lot more power than we are doing today,” he said, referring to the government plan known as Vision 2030.

Lawmaker Namwamba blamed power firm executives’ apparent indifference for the challenges in the sector and accused them of endangering the achievement of Vision 2030.
“No country ever industrialised without sufficient power. Perhaps they should be revising this from Vision 2030 to Vision 3020. I don’t see how we are going to meet that target with this kind of attitude,” he said.