Energy minister to be quizzed over outages

Friday, December 2nd, 2022 09:40 | By
Energy Cabinet Secretary nominee Davis Chirchir
Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir. PHOTO/File

Parliament wants Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir to explain the frequent power outages in the country at a time when there is increased demand due to rebounding economic activities.

Members of Parliament say the impact of the blackouts has been felt across major sectors including learning institutions, businesses, and health facilities, and in some instances caused damages to households’ electronic appliances.

In a submission, the parliamentarians also want the CS to elaborate the state of the Last-Mile connectivity project, fast-tracking of the connection of Wajir County to the national grid, and the enhancement of the capacity of the off-grid power plants.

“Could the (Cabinet Secretary) provide the measures that the ministry has put in place to ensure prompt deployment of Kenya Power and Lighting Company technicians to address incidents of power blackouts and outages,” Wajir Woman representative Fatuma Jehow said in a submission.

The submission had the backing of other members of Parliament who pushed similar concerns on behalf of their constituents. Last month alone, the country plunged into two major nationwide blackouts, on November 2 and 24, which stretched for hours before restoration.

Kenya Power linked the blackouts which hit Nairobi, Mount Kenya and coastal regions to a system disturbance, declining to disclose more details. It had followed a similar incident witnessed early this year following the collapse of the high-voltage Kiambere-Embakasi transmission line. “We have lost bulk power supply to various parts of the country due to a system disturbance and we are working to restore normalcy within the shortest time possible,” Kenya Power said in a statement on November 24.  The most affected cities have been the main ones hosting vast production processes in the country.

Emergency power systems

The rising incidences of large-scale power outages are a pain to businesses like manufacturers, retailers, commercial buildings, and other entities who are forced to switch to emergency power systems such as generators which are costlier. Other than incurring additional expenses, power outages specifically pose a huge impact on the manufacturers’ production lines, sometimes causing the breakdown of the machines and damaging goods. For some heavy-power users like steel producers, the electrical energy output from diesel generators alone is not even enough to power the machines or melt the steel. Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) estimates that revenue loss due to blackouts among manufacturers can go into hundreds of millions of shillings.

“For every Kilowatt-hour, we consume in this economy, it generates a value of around $7 (Sh140).  So you can imagine if you lose a maximum demand of 2,700KW within an hour. That can translate to millions of shillings if the blackout runs for even a single day,” says Sylvester Makaka, Senior energy advisor at KAM.

Frequent blackouts have mainly been caused by supply shortfalls, and sometimes because of Kenya Power’s aging distribution and transmission infrastructure. Kenya’s peak power demand rose to 2,121 Megawatts (MW) in October, dropping the buffer capacity to below the 100MW mark. A drop in buffer capacity always triggers fears of power rationing but the country has always been quick to fix the shortfalls through importation.

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