No relief in power bills despite pounding rains, says Energy PS

Kenya Power technicians replace a transformer on the outskirts of Othaya town in Nyeri county, May 5, 2022. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Kenyans will continue to grapple with high power costs despite the recent rains.

The Energy Ministry says the ongoing rains have only increased water levels at key hydroelectric dams marginally, and the country will continue, therefore, continue relying on the expensive thermal power plants to meet electricity demand.

The prolonged drought saw Kenya Power buy more from thermal power producers as production from hydro plants declined.

Thermal power plants use heavy fuel oil to generate electricity, the cost of which is passed on to consumers.

Energy Principal Secretary Alex Wachira said yesterday hydropower is yet to fully recover from the drought, noting that water levels at Masinga Dam, for instance, have risen by two meters only.

Water levels at Masinga Dam, the main reservoir for the seven forks hydropower cascade, had reached a low of 1,036 metres above sea level in February.

At the time, the ministry had cautioned that further drops in the water levels would result in shutting down the plants on the cascade.

Water levels at the dam have in past rainy seasons risen to 1,056 metres above sea level.

Due to poor hydrology, Wachira said, power production from the hydro plants is currently at about 66 per cent of the installed capacity at a meeting with the National Assembly's Committee on Energy in Naivasha.

"Even with the rains that we have had in the recent couple of weeks, Masinga Dam has only risen by two metres. We need much more rain to ensure the availability of more hydropower. Of the 839 megawatts (MW) hydroelectric installed capacity, most of the time we have only been able to push 560MW to the grid," said Mr Wachira.

"So we are left with no alternatives other than to run thermals. During the rainy season, we also have low solar and wind output."

He added that electricity imports from neighbouring Ethiopia are expected to slightly help the situation.

Kenya Power late last year started importing power from Kenya's northern neighbour, initially buying 200MW from Ethiopian Electric Power, but this is expected to be stepped up to 400MW.

Mr Wachira said this has helped stabilise electricity supply following the dismal performance of the hydropower plants in the country.

The ministry is set to commission the recently completed transmission line to facilitate power imports.

"In a bid to address the issue of electricity security, we shall be launching the Ethiopia-Kenya transmission line where we shall be getting an extra 200MW," said the CS.

At a meeting with stakeholders, the Energy Committee said intentional failure to phase out thermal power companies that are owned by powerful individuals is to blame for the high cost of energy.

According to the committee chairman Vincent Kawaya, the only hope of reducing the cost of electricity in the country lies in phasing out the expensive thermal power stations.

He said investigations by the committee had established that there are efforts to protect the companies owned by some politicians.

"These Independent Power Producers get from the State the same cash as KenGen despite producing 25 per cent of electricity compared to the former that generates 75 per cent," he said.

Noteworthy, however, is that the country's electricity production is hinged on geothermal energy at 41 per cent followed by hydro at 30 per cent.

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