The cost of power is expected to go up as electricity generators start to rely more on thermal plants following a drop in the water levels at the seven folks dams.
Due to inadequate rains during the October-December season, water levels at Masinga Dam have dropped to the lowest levels last seen eight years ago. This has prompted a reduction in power generated from hydros and the country is now shifting reliance to costly diesel-fired thermal plants. This has already contributed to an increase in the fuel cost charge component on the monthly power bills of consumers.
Reliance on thermal is expected to go up in January and February as the drought bites, with a potential for a major power crisis should the long rains fail, which could result in shutting down of some of the hydro power stations.
Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter said the fuel cost charge has gone up to Sh2.85 per unit in December from Sh2.30 per unit and could go up to over Sh3. He added that in a ‘worst case scenario’, the fuel charge might go up to Sh3.52 per unit.
“We have scaled down generating electricity from hydros. Before, they accounted for 45 per cent of the power generated but this has dropped to 35 per cent. Thermal plants have increased and they are now accounting for 18 per cent of the power generated up from 11 per cent. If the dry weather persists, this might go up to 24 per cent,” he said. Keter spoke after a tour of Masinga Dam yesterday.
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Prolonged dry spell
“If the dry weather continues beyond April or May, then we will have problems. But we expect to get rains by March.”
Masinga Dam is critical to the country’s hydro electricity as it feeds water to all the power stations that are downstream on the seven folks hydro electricity system. Water levels at the dam are currently at 1,048 metres above sea level, from a high of 1,056 metres mid last year.
KenGen says the minimal operating level is 1,037 metres but should the levels drop below this then the firm, which generates power from the Seven Folks, will have to shut down the 40 MW station at Masinga and rely on the other stations downstream. It, however, said this was unlikely to happen as the rains expected in March will boost the levels.
The firm had in 2009 shut down the Masinga Dam power station following a prolonged dry spell, releasing the water from the dam to boost the other power stations downstream that rely on the Masinga reservoir. Masinga was shut down at 1,035 metres, which was the lowest it had been in the lifetime of the dam.
Other hydro electricity generation plants, Sondu Miriu and Turkwel Gorge, have equally suffered due to the drought. Generation at Sondu has come down to 15MW from its peak of 60MW.
National Assembly’s Energy Committee Chair Jamleck Kamau challenged the Ministry to ensure that the country stops the over-reliance on hydro electricity. He noted that it has often resulted in crises, with Kenyans having to pay more power.
“We should look for solutions to this problem. We cannot be having the same problem year after year,” he said. The rise in the fuel cost charge (FCC) component of the electricity bill will be compounded by the weakening of the shilling against the dollar that is expected to see an upward revision of the Foreign Exchange Adjustment component.
Forex adjustment component is related to the fluctuation of major currencies against the local currency for expenditure related to the power sector, which include projects loan repayments.