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Kenya Power stripped of role of managing national grid

Kenya Power employees replacing old poles at Tombe area in Nyamira County on January 10, 2021. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) will now man the country’s electricity network, including the selection of power plants feeding the grid at any one time.

The company has been designated as the system operator, which is part of reforms the government is undertaking in the power sector.

Other than ensuring that the grid is operating smoothly, Ketraco will also be in charge of matching electricity demand with supply.

The process entails selecting power plants that feed the grid based on multiple factors, including giving priority to producers offering the cheapest electricity.

Kenya Power had hitherto been playing the role of system operator. This was, however, queried by the Presidential Task Force on Review of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), which noted that the system operator should be an independent entity. 

The task force said an off-taker (Kenya Power) or a power producer could be conflicted when it doubles up as the system operator and recommended the appointment of a different entity.

The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) announced the changes yesterday in a gazette notice. 

“Pursuant to section 138 (1) of the Energy Act, 2019, Epra designates Ketraco as the system operator,” said the power sector regulator.

“The system operator will be responsible for matching consumer’s requirements/demand with the electrical energy availability or supply, maintaining electric power system security and arranging for the dispatch process.”

Ketraco, which is responsible for running and maintaining high voltage power transmission lines, will be responsible for the management and operations of the National Control Centre (NCC).

The NCC, located on Juja Road in Nairobi, selects the amount of electricity each power producer feeds to the grid.

It will also have oversight of the optimal scheduling and dispatch of electric energy, according to the Epra notice.

The system operator allows expensive power into the grid when the cheap sources are fully engaged or unavailable.

As the system operator, Ketraco will also be “coordinating with system operators of the countries whose electric power systems are interconnected with the Kenyan system so as to ensure efficient operations.”

Kenya trades in electricity, either importing or exporting, with Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

The move to designate Ketraco as the system operator is in line with recommendations of the task force on PPAs, which gave its report to President Uhuru Kenya last September.

It recommended that the work be undertaken by an independent player away from Kenya Power and the power producers.

The task force noted that having Kenya Power play the role was in conflict with the law, which says that a power distributor or a generator should not perform the role of a system operator.

“The law provides that the system operator shall not be involved in the direct or indirect buying or selling of electrical energy. This implies that KPLC (Kenya Power and Lighting Company) as a distribution company cannot be designated as an SO,” said the task force in the report.

“The use of a system operator is also expected to enhance accountability in the merit order dispatch process. The task force was informed that power dispatch is done by KPLC’s NCC through the merit order mechanism where the cheapest power is prioritised for dispatch. This could, however, not be verified.”

In its report, the task force also recommended that Ketraco take over the operations and maintenance of many of the transmission lines currently under the purview of Kenya Power. 

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