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Plan to electrify SGR kicks off

By Macharia Kamau | November 27th 2018
Train makes a stopover at Mtito Andei Terminus on the way to Mombasa. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

The controversial plan by the Government to electrify the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is gathering pace.

The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) has sought environmental approval to start construction of power infrastructure for the line.

The National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) said Ketraco had filed the Environmental Impact Assessment and was seeking approval to start the project.

It will entail construction of 12 transmission lines and 14 sub-stations. In addition to heralding the electric trains as opposed to the current diesel-powered ones, the infrastructure is also expected to benefit industries along the railway line.

“The proponent, Ketraco, is proposing to construct 12 transmission lines and 14 sub-stations for supply of high voltage power to the Nairobi-Mombasa SGR line and the economic belt along the railway line,” said Nema yesterday in a public call for views on the project which is expected to take 28 months.

“The proposed project will traverse five counties – Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Makueni and Machakos.”

Ketraco in February said it had secured Sh25 billion to put up the infrastructure to electrify the line.

The agency then said it had signed a contract with China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Company Limited (CET) for the project.

“The main purpose of this venture is to ensure that when the SGR switches to clean energy power source, the supply will be reliable and sufficient for not only the train but other facilities along the Mombasa-Nairobi economic belt, including train stations, planned industries, factories and businesses near the railway. This will create more major power customers and consumers and bring other opportunities to the locals,” Ketraco said in February.

The push for electrification of the modern rail is despite varied opinions on its viability.

Senior Ministry of Transport officials recently told Parliament that there lacks adequate electricity to power the trains while the supply is unstable owing to old transmission infrastructure.

“The power supply that we have in this country is not guaranteed. There are frequent power outages that could derail the running of the trains. We need at least 80 per cent guaranteed supply to even think of upgrading SGR to an electric rail,” Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told Parliament’s Departmental Committee on Transport in May.

“Also, we neither have the finance nor the capacity to support such kind of expensive and sophisticated infrastructure,” added the CS

Past estimates on SGR locomotives running on electricity put the power requirements at 1,000MW, which is more than a third of the electricity that the country power producers can put out at a go.

Transmission problem

The recently commissioned Lake Turkana Wind Power and the Garissa Solar Power Plant has pushed Kenya’s installed electricity generating capacity to about 2,700 megawatts (MW) against a demand of 1,800MW.

The current design of the SGR, built with a Sh324 billion loan granted in 2014 by China’s Exim Bank, comprising a Sh160.6 billion commercial loan and Sh163.4 billion concessional loan, allows the addition of a single electric line.

Bernard Oyier, an electrical engineer with a subsidiary of a global power firm company, however, argues that there is enough electric power in the national grid, the main problem lies with the transmission.

“The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company has transmission challenges with old equipment and also lacks the expertise to upgrade the SGR into an electric line,” said Mr Oyier in a past interview with The Standard.

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