The recent appointment of a new board of directors for Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) should count for something. The new board should herald a new era for an outfit whose fortunes have been on a downhill spiral in recent years.
For far too long, Kenyans have bemoaned the runaway bills they have had no choice but pay to a nerveless behemoth. Truth be told, KPLC has, over the years, serially exhibited an annoying complacency - sometimes brazen flippancy - which monopolies are wont to do from time to time.
The agony is that not many Kenyans believe they get value for money from KPLC. The situation at hand is made worse by the fact that Covid-19 has led to loss of livelihoods for thousands who may not afford the cost of electricity as they previously did a few months back.
For a country that has set its goals on boosting manufacturing as one of its four key socio-development priorities, the cost of electricity should be one of the foremost to address. The other three of the Big Four Agenda are affordable housing, food security and universal health. All the four areas mentioned would distinctly benefit from affordable electricity.
It does not take a genius to realise that the reason why Kenyans pay an arm and a leg for the electricity they consume is that the cost of power generation from certain sources remains inordinately high as monthly electricity bills clearly reveal. Principal among these sources is thermal power generation, which is not only expensive but dependent on the increasingly unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels.
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Kenya is bang on the equator where sunlight is in abundant supply. Besides, recent technologies have optimised the generation capacity of both wind and solar power. Indeed, there cannot be any compelling reason why Kenya should not pitch for most if not all of its entire power supply from green energy sources.
According to a 2019 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, renewable power costs way cheaper than power produced from fossil fuels. Unless a country is incapacitated by climatic reasons from producing renewable energy, there possibly cannot be a reason for a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
The fanfare that ushered in the forward-looking power generation options such as wind and geothermal was informed by the need for sustainable energy sources at affordable prices. This would then lower not only the country’s domestic but industrial needs at a globally-competitive cost to drive the manufacturing pillar of the Big Four Agenda.
It, therefore, begs the question: Of what benefit are the pricey thermal power generators and why do they still feature so prominently in primary power generation when they should function as a back-up to sudden and intermittent shocks in supply? It beats logic to talk of the provision of electricity as a mark of social progress when its cost does not favour lower socio-economic cadres.
The time has come to address the prominence of thermal energy in our power mix and its contribution to high electricity bills when we should be weaning the country of such unsustainable sources. Official policy should encourage a more sustainable approach with the necessary incentives that will work in favour of ordinary Kenyans instead of narrow business interests.
- The writer is a commentator on topical issues based in Nairobi