Kenyans see red over green power bills

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Tuesday, 6 August 2019 19:13, updated on Wednesday, 7 August 2019 10:59

Power lines connecting pylons of high-tension electricity are seen from the power substation at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

While Kenya celebrates major wins for green energy, local consumers are fuming over high electricity bills.

  • President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the largest wind farm in Africa – Lake Turkana Wind Power project – last month, generating 310MW.
  • Kenya’s largest power producing company, KenGen, unveiled a new geothermal unit at the Olkaria Geothermal Power Station – last month, producing 86.6MW.

  • Financed by a Chinese loan, Kenya’s Rural Electrification Authority commissioned the Garissa Power Station last year, adding 55MW to the grid.

Kenya’s total installed capacity has grown to 2,711.7MW, thanks in large part to green clean energy. It’s the world’s eighth-largest geothermal energy producer at 763MW, and the only African country in the top 10.

However, a consumer-led campaign for lower electricity costs is gaining momentum on the streets of Nairobi, and on Twitter. Kenya Power and Lighting Company, now known as Kenya Power – the company responsible for electricity transmission, distribution and sales – announced plans to recoup KSh10.1bn ($98m) in backdated bills, a precursor to the protests last month.

  • Police in Nairobi fired teargas at #SwitchOffKPLC protestors complaining about inflated bills and corruption at Kenya Power.
  • Protesters filed several petitions with various government bodies. They speculate that diesel-generation costs were not charged between February-August 2017 to lower power costs artificially during an election year.
  • A lawyer and a consumer group filed a class-action lawsuit in January 2018, accusing Kenya Power of overcharging consumers.

Activists Jerotich Seii and Wanjeri Nderu are leading a second legal effort.

  • “The few of us who ignited this campaign…were initially driven by our anger regarding our individual domestic bills… We saw that fixed and variable tariffs did not add up… Successive months were billed based on ‘estimates’… We received multiple bills in a single month,” wrote Seii last year.

Activists accuse Kenya Power of transferring massive costs of clean energy to consumers.

  • The Ministry of Energy paid a fine of KSh5.7bn ($55m) to the private consortium that runs the Lake Turkana Wind project.
  • The wind farm was completed in August 2017, but there was a failure to build lines to feed power to the national grid.
  • The body in charge of transmission (from power generators to Kenya Power, which then runs the consumer-facing transmission), which failed to build the lines from the wind farm, is called KETRACO (Kenya Electricity Transmission Co. Ltd)
  • The consortium says the total penalty is KSh14.6bn ($141m) for breach of contract.
  • Kenya Power is passing these costs onto consumers, charging an extra KSh0.96 ($0.0093) per KWh for the next 6 years.

The Kenyan scenario exemplifies a growing problem in the region.

  • East Africa and its private sector have excess power supply. While Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda have a total installed capacity of 5,500MW, their combined peak electricity demand is 3,300MW.
  • Electricity bills remain exorbitantly high, despite the roll out of clean energy.

Kenya’s energy investments are meant to drive its ambitious Vision2030 projects. However, with a little over a decade to go, Kenya is cutting its power targets by 2,800MW.

  • “Uncertainties associated with prolonged electioneering period affected economic activities and hence electricity consumption during the first half of the year. In the second half, we experienced dampened customer confidence due to challenges in service delivery,” wrote Kenya Power managing director Jared Othieno in the company’s June 2018 annual report.
  • Kenya’s economy has not grown at the same rate as electricity generation, especially in heavy manufacturing. In January, power consumption in Kenya dropped for the first time in 5 years.

The bottom line: As Kenya prepares for a monumental shift to 100% green energy by 2020, taxpayers will be expecting to see more money in their pockets.

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