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Thursday, March 23, 2023

After Repeated Blackouts, Kenya’s Power Grid Comes Under Scrutiny

Kenyans have been using the hashtag #KPLC on Twitter this week to share memes and gifs about the country’s worst nationwide blackout in years.

While some sought to find some humor in the middle of the darkness, others bemoaned the state-run Kenya Power Lighting Company’s incompetence.

It was the third countrywide blackout in four years, raising concerns about KPLC’s capacity to maintain a consistent power supply.

The business stated in a statement that four pylons supporting the electricity line that connects Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, to a hydroelectric dam in the central area fell. The buildings had been undermined by vandalism, according to the report.

Following worries of probable sabotage following reforms at the energy ministry that were perceived to have ruffled officials’ feathers, police are probing the reason of the blackout, with the director of criminal investigations telling media that they can’t rule anything out.

President Uhuru Kenyatta reshuffled his cabinet in September 2021, appointing Monica Juma and her aide Gordon Kihalangwa to the ministry to drive through the changes, which have seen the cost of energy cut by 15%, among other things.

Later, Mr Kihalangwa assured MPs that Kenya Power will be held accountable for suspected crimes committed during the formulation of Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) contracts. In a normal power purchase agreement, a producer is compensated for any electricity created, even if Kenya Power is unable to sell it due to excess supply.

According to reports, chiefs of numerous ministries’ divisions and firms have been compelled to leave, with others choosing for early retirement. No one has been charged as of yet.

Kenya Power’s rates should be slashed in half, according to a presidential committee on power purchase agreements, to equal the pricing of the power-generating business, KenGen. It also recommended that any power purchase agreements still in the works be put on hold.

Reduced electricity costs and a reassessment of power purchase agreements would result in reduced revenue for Kenya Power, which is owned by private investors with a 49.9% stake.

Constant outages, sluggish power restoration, high electricity bills, and the inability to connect potential clients are just a few of KPLC’s annoyances. It’s no wonder that it’s been given names like “Kenya Paraffin and Candles Limited.”

Kenya Power has also been in debt, with financial reports indicating that the corporation is reliant on loans to operate. It has taken loans from the International Development Agency (IDA), China Exim Bank, and Japan Development Bank, among others. Because the loans are insured by the state, taxpayers will be responsible if they default.

Its procurement methods have also been investigated, with one preliminary audit report revealing that it had around $85 million (£63 million) in deadstock – equipment like electrical cables, meters, and transformers that had been languishing in warehouses for more than five years and had not been utilized.

Critics have also accused the corporation of acting like a monopoly, claiming that it strangles competitors by limiting their distribution capacity to extremely narrow areas.

Kenya Power has been shaken by a rising transition toward solar power systems by enterprises seeking a more stable and cost-effective supply. Some of the business’s industrial clients, who account for around 55 percent of its sales income, are switching to self-generated solar electricity, according to the company.

Solar power units have lately been installed on the premises of large power consumers such as Africa Logistics Properties (ALP), Mombasa International Airport, and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe).

Solar photovoltaic grid-tied systems have been used by a number of other businesses, institutions, and factories to produce electricity for internal usage.

Solar power adoption has increased, according to official data issued last year. Solar illumination is used by around 2.3 million households, or about 19% of the total number of dwellings.

Kenya Power is vying for a piece of that pie, and has announced that it would enter the solar industry. It plans to look for consumers who want solar panels placed on their roofs and hire private companies to undertake the work under a design-build-finance-and-operate (DBFO) model.

Kenya Power would then sell the generated electricity at a discount to the owners of the residences and office buildings where its solar facilities are located.

Kenya Power will be forced to adapt as the country transitions to solar energy, or it will be rendered obsolete and sent to the dark.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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