By John Njiraini
Kenya has activated a power-rationing programme that might hurt industry and small service providers already battered by high energy and commodity prices.
Power generator KenGen and independent power producers are not supplying enough electricity to make up for cuts caused by breakdowns and regular maintenance.
National power distributor Kenya Power says high electricity demand forced it to implement power rationing programme in the country. Photo: File/Standard
Those likely to see their trade income cut include manufacturers, owners of cybercafÈs, small retailers, barbershops and salons.
Kenyans are also praying that the water levels in the dams do not drop further as this would make the situation worse.
While domestic consumers have largely been spared — and the scale of the cuts is nowhere near as bad as in neighbouring Tanzania — things could get worse if power supply does not return to normal in coming weeks.
The worst period of power rationing in Kenya was in 1999-2001. However, The Standard recalls that in August 2009, President Kibaki gave a keynote speech on boosting local exports to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), but his goals were thwarted after an electricity rationing programme was announced soon afterwards that consigned his promises to the dustbin.
National power distributor Kenya Power now says it has been forced to implement a "Power Supply Management Programme", or rationing in simpler language, because electricity demand is fast outstripping supply.
According to an advertisement in yesterday’s daily papers, Kenya Power also says a promised supply of "26 MW from Mumias Sugar Company’s co-generation plant" has not been forthcoming. This has created a deficit of 90 MW (mega watts).
The evening cuts are a major blow to Kenya’s much touted 24-hour economy, as they will affect industries, retailers and small and medium-sized enterprises that operate between 6.30pm and 9.30pm.
But Kenya Power has said it will do its best to protect key emergency service providers like hospitals from the rationing.
Reaction to the planned cuts by manufacturers was swift.
"This is an unfortunate move that will increase production costs and we might be forced to pass them on to the consumers," said Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) chairman Jaswinder Bedi.
The move ultimately adds to the many miseries already distressing Kenyans like runaway prices of basic commodities, rising prices of fuel, high inflation, weakening shilling and a harsh drought that is threatening the lives of four million people in Northern Kenya.
The power supply management programme will mainly affect Nairobi and the Western part of the country and is bound to be severe in industrial areas.
"Due to power generation shortfalls that have been experienced in the recent past, there has been insufficient power generation reserve margin to meet the ever rising national power demand," said Kenya Power Managing Director Eng Joseph Njoroge.
He added the shortfall has made it impossible for the power distributor to meet demand during the evening peak period in various parts of the country.
In neighbouring Tanzania, private firms are beginning to retrench staff and send others on unpaid leave due to a severe power rationing even worse than in Kenya.
Unlike in Kenya, the State-owned distributor, Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (Tanesco) is also the sole generator, and says it needs major funding from the government to turn things around.
Corruption and political interference often means that the power-rationing schedule by Tanesco exists only on paper.
Kenya Power said various parts of the country would go without electricity for three hours during some days of the week, mainly in the evening.
The areas mainly affected in Nairobi include Baba Ndogo where various companies and numerous cottage industries are located, Industrial Area and Athi River. The rationing will also affect parts of Western Kenya, North Rift and Mt Kenya Region.
Njoroge was non-committal on how long the rationing would last.
"The schedule would be reviewed once generation companies returned to service machines that are out on breakdown or routine maintenance," he said.
Power output gaps hurt Kenya’s competitiveness in attracting investment. According to Bedi, the rationing will increase cost for manufacturers, as it will affect production significantly and might even force price increases for basic goods.
Inflation, the general rise in the prices of goods and commodities over time, has steadily increased from 4.5 per cent last December to 14.5 per cent in June, reflecting the declining purchasing power of most Kenyans.
"When you are not producing you are incurring costs. This might lead to consumer prices going up," Bedi said, noting that the rising cost of doing business in Kenya is among issues the business community plans to discuss with President Kibaki at a roundtable meeting tomorrow.
Speaking yesterday at the Kenya Power offices, CEO Njoroge said power output has been affected by numerous breakdowns and outages on some power generating plants.
Also causing the shortage is failure by Mumias Sugar to avail some 26 MW due to lack of bagasse, and delay of commissioning new diesel power generators that would add 252 MW to the national grid by three independent producers, due to prolonged period of processing payments’ security guarantees.
"There is, therefore, insufficient power generation reserve margin to meet the ever rising national power demand," he said.
Currently, Kenya’s peak demand stands at 1,191 MW against the available generation capacity of 1,359 MW as at May 2011.
Electricity demand has been growing at an annual average of 5.3 per cent over the last five years, and is expected to accelerate to over 10 per cent annually due to implementation of development projects under the Vision 2030 blueprint.
Njoroge said the Coast area is currently enjoying abundant power generation and will not be affected by the supply interruptions.
But Western Kenya is experiencing serious challenges as the transmission network lacks capacity to transfer more power from the eastern part of the country to compensate for shortfalls in the area.
The situation is expected to improve in the next three months once the installation of a 60 MW diesel powered emergency power plant in Muhoroni is complete.