By James Anyanzwa
A new trend of developing small hydropower projects is emerging within the tea sub-sector to provide reliable, cheap and clean electricity supply to tea factories.
The move is aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of Kenyan tea in the international market and to cut emissions of green house gases and other pollutants arising from the operations of diesel-fed generators.
Two power projects are being developed to work under wheeling arrangements while supplying power to the tea factories through the use of the existing Kenya Power distribution grid.
These are Gura Small Hydropower Project (5 MW capacity) located on the Gura River in Nyeri County of Kenya and Kipchoria Hydropower Project (3 MW capacity) located on the Kipchoria River in Nandi County of Kenya.
The tea industry is a heavy consumer of power mainly for firing tea leaves into granules. The main source of power for the over 100 tea factories in Kenya is currently wood and diesel.
However, lack of a tariff structure for power wheeling has thwarted efforts by independent power producers to supply electricity to the tea factories in the country.
According to a new ‘Power Wheeling Case study’ report, independent power generators require a comprehensive tariff structure to evacuate energy through the existing Kenya Power transmission infrastructure.
“A power wheeling structure will make it easy to transfer power but lack of it does not stop tea factories from investing in energy plants and selling excess electricity to the national grid,” said Lerionka Tiampati, the managing director of Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).
Wheeling in distribution means using utility grid to carry energy produced by a third party generator to a designated customer. While power wheeling is common practice in other countries, it is a new development in Kenya.
The country though has embarked on a process to develop a wheeling charge mechanism after power transmission company Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) said it plans to contract a consultant to undertake the process.