MP's scuffle exposes rot at Kenya Power and why your bills are high

Managing Director Joseph Siror addressing the media in Nairobi on July 5, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Every Kenyan, it seems, has a story to tell about their experiences with Kenya Power. And for good measure, they are not pleasant narratives.

One would have hoped Kitui East MP Nimrod Mbai’s assault on the utility firm’s staff would have united Kenyans against the brazen act but alas, the ground is hostile.

While some condemned the violence and likened the MP’s actions to bullying, many observed that some Kenya Power officials had gone rogue and invited it on themselves.

Kenya Power condemned the violence and said it would continue cracking down on illegal connections, which was what its officials were doing when they were accosted by the MP.

“We condemn this incident and wish to categorically state that we do not condone any violence, least not against our staff when carrying out their duties,” said Kenya Power CEO Joseph Siror.

“The company will intensify network surveillance and continue to work with the national government admin office and security agencies to stamp out any illegal activity within the network.”

“The company carries routine surveillance on the network to ensure that it is safe and free from any illegal activities that endanger the lives of the members of the public. Illegal connections on the network are a leading cause of deaths by electrocution and damage to assets.”

The illegal connections are somewhat obvious and appear to go on unabated, even as the firm attempts to stem it. Little talked about however is the impact such connections have on consumers as they are partly to blame for sustained high power prices. The illegal connections also leave a dent on finances of Kenya Power.

These illegal connections lead to high system losses, which stood at 22.4 per cent in the year to June 2022. What this means is for every 100 units Kenya Power bought from power producers, it was able to sell 77.56 units, with 22.44 units lost during transmission and theft by consumers.

The losses are made up of two components - technical and commercial losses. Technical losses occur during transmission and distribution of electricity while commercial losses are theft by consumers, who are in some instances helped by Kenya Power staff.

The consumers shoulder the bigger portion of the losses at 19.9 per cent. Anything above 19.9 per cent is carried by Kenya Power, which would mean it took a hit on the 2.54 per cent of the system losses and in turn increasing operating costs.

The Auditor General noted that the difference between what Kenya Power bought from power producers and sold to consumers was in excess of Sh31 billion in the financial year to June 2022. It added that the losses are among reasons why cost of electricity remained high.

While the losses reduced to 22.44 per cent last year from 23.95 per cent a year earlier, the Auditor General noted that this has been a persistent challenge over the years.

“Review of units purchased against units sold revealed a total of 12,653 gigawatt hours (GWh) purchased from power producers, out of which, 9,84 GWh were sold to customers resulting in an efficiency loss of 2,839GWh or 22.44 per cent which translates to approximately Sh31.21 billion using the average price for the 9,814 sold,” said the Auditor General in a report after auditing Kenya power financial statements.

The Cabinet in May also noted the toll that the illegal connections have had on Kenya Power’s finances, noting that one per cent system loss is equivalent to Sh1.2 billion. In a memo on restructuring the firm, the Cabinet said there are plans to lower this to 14.4 per cent in three years that would enable the firm to save Sh6 billion annually.

“While reduction of commercial losses may not require much investments, one per cent reduction translates to Sh1.2 billion in additional revenue,” said the memo. Commercial losses alone stand at about 10 per cent while the balance of 12.44 per cent is due to infrastructure.

Another factor that has been undoing in Kenya Power’s fight against illegal connections is the policy direction.

The government has in the past appeared to take a soft stance when it comes to disconnecting Kenyans who have been illegally connected to electricity. Throughout different regimes, there have been attempts to meter people in informal settlements whose connections might not meet safety standards.

President William Ruto in January, directed Kenya Power to stop disconnecting consumer and instead metre them, and make sure they pay for their consumption.

“If you find that a citizen has been connected to electricity by whatever means, go and put a metre and begin to charge them. Do not switch off an entire estate. Go and meter and charge him or her,” Ruto said.

Kenyans, especially in rural areas are usually lost as to who they are supposed to deal with between Kenya Power and the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (Rerec). There have been incidents where households have ended with two metres, have applied for connection to one but owing to delays they applied to other and eventually ended up being connected by both Kenya Power and Rerec.

Kenyans poured their hearts out on the rot at the power utility firm and hell they go through to get connected. They said it is a process riddled with hurdles, con schemes and con people.

One compared it to the road to heaven. “It’s easier going to heaven than getting connected to the national grid,” Wuod Victor said.

Alvan Ke said Kenya Power is reluctant in their service delivery, take months to sort out transformer problems, and keeps customers in darkness without explanation.

For Atoo Kato, the company is just not serious with its customers. He wished the company had a rival in the business to keep it on its toes.

Emi Lyna said it takes years to be connected when one applies to Kenya Power but with REREC is easy.

“Kenya “powerless and lessening company” has a million and one rotten issues from management to the bottom. I don’t even know where to begin,” whined Samuel Juma Kakai.

Makambaya Vit applied for connection spanning10 meters one year ago. He has been following nearly every month to check the status of the meters. And the response has been the same; that meters are not currently available.

For Stephen Kimata Kioko, a connected bill of Sh250,000 for a distance of two poles convinced him that Kenya Power is not a serious company. He said its way too annoying to think about the whole thing.

Wycliff Ongesh was lucky but he’s not so happy about the whole experience: “I applied for electricity and paid for 2 meters. It took 6 months to be connected with only 1 meter. I feel for this country with companies like KP.”

Emmanuel Asava summed the process of getting connected in just three words: Shrewd and challenging. For him, its time Kenyans went for green energy.
Another customer Moses Ombogo who resides 500m from the transformer with the main transmission line passing along the adjacent road, got a quotation of Sh230,000.

For Newton a Machakos resident, a pole was erected and later removed under the last mile project. “They keep calling asking ‘uliwekewa?’ Now they want 120k for connection,” he said.

Many others spoke of a process dominated by brokers and quacks. But others also spoke of a fairly smoother process.

But these good stories are far in between and are swamped by sea of complaints and the unfortunate celebration of the assault by the MP.

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