Kenya Kwanza has a blueprint for runaway power tariffs

Kenya Power technicians repairing a power line in Migori town. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

There has been much talk about flaws in public electrical power generation contracting expressing hopelessness on whether a solution is nigh. Indeed, things will look grim to the naked eye oblivious of the strategies which the government is putting in place.

Apathy levels are so high that mentioning actions of the former government sounds like escapism.

To fix Kenya’s public power sector, one has to not only understand the intricacies of such engagements but also navigate through historical lapses that brought us to a slowing trajectory.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “There are a thousand hackings at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root.”

The leading American transcendentalist also said, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

It’s time our public is given liberating truth and authentic effective strategy as opposed to academic ineffective jargon. Technological advancement should be a means to an end and not an end in itself.

During a recent announcement for major investments by US partners, President Ruto quipped, “Kenya means business”. The KK government is on the go. It’s no longer business as usual in the technology sector.

The President’s commitment to drive inclusive and sustainable economic growth means that the way things are being done has shifted gears. To do the same way and expect different results is to abuse the intelligence of Kenyans.

Here-in, I analyse the Kenya Kwanza government’s smart public interest policy in the power sector and by extension manufacturing industry. I separate the chaff from the wheat on what Kenyans should expect going forward.

Today, shifting public fiscal gears means that a critical mass of the Kenyan population understands what global public technical jargon means and how to optimise its utilisation.

How do we manage our almost 68 per cent total public date to GDP ratio?


A lot has been said about independent power producers (IPPs) who signed punitive power purchase agreements (PPA’s) with the government. Pundits sadly seem to suggest that the government is helpless in fixing the resulting consumer burden. They deliver academic analyses that don’t go beyond contract figures.

They instead apportion opinions on these figures without a crucial technical interrogation of the process that birthed that data.

We read about cliches like. “The cartels have taken the government at ransom” and “they are unable to cancel the contract” effectively whipping public emotions on the “helplessness” of the government.

Kenya Power offices along Harambee Avenue, Nairobi. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Past parliamentary sessions that these companies were called to, in attempting to resolve the impasses, have been marred with the ineffectiveness of government bureaucracy.

This is because the predisposing factors for appointing persons to key parliamentary select committees have been political expediency. Since such committees were not backed by technocrats who were bound to take responsibility for their decisions, their work would then inevitably exhibit professional ineptness.

We have seen parliamentarians ask technically defective questions incapable of bringing amicable solutions to the power cost crisis. Kenya Kwanza government has not only revamped key performance indicators (KPIs) for its workforce but has gone ahead to audit them for technical soundness and universal competitiveness.

Technical persons within task forces that oversite government checks, will now be held personally liable for professional negligence should their decisions fall below par. As parliament represent the will of the people, professionals working with them will be responsible for technical decisions.

In other words, expect hawk-eye government requirements on technicalities during PPA re-negotiations.

Frugality in negotiating technical contracts

There is a powerful shift towards fiscal discipline in dispensing our meagre public resources.

Today’s Economic giants never broke even through the availability of loans and grants, but with discipline, strategy and building internal capacity to optimize available resources.

In fixing our PPAs, one has to understand why we got there in the first place. While a public procedure may be legal, it can be morally wrong if it involves persons with conflict-of-interest issues or if the engagement is largely legalistic but technically deficient.

Today preference will be given to PPA clauses that emphasise the public common interest. As a key manufacturing utility, power touches the very fabric of any economy.

A team that negotiates these documents must be an all-around technical think tank. Trust has two facets, ethics and competency. While the past government teams were selected on grounds of ethics, competency was either overlooked or ignored.

Worse still’ ethics were under-delivered because selected persons were a result of political rewarding.

With the current government, technical words in the PPA that have a bearing on the cost of power will not pass unnoticed. Simple words like cost/Kwh, charge currency USD/Kes, specific fuel cost consumption, and specific lube oil consumption. Availability, capacity tests, and load factor, may mean millions of dollars from the public coffer.

Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir (right) with PS Alex Kamau during a past meeting. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

Service providers will meet a very sharpened and effective government team on the negotiating table. The ink will be black and white.

Efficiency and optimisation of processes are the operative words. The delivery process will be verifiable and universally competitive. For example, preference may be given to the entity that delivers the least specific fuel oil and lube oil consumption. There will be a standardised empirically determinable procedure for fuel consumed.

State-of-the-art monitoring systems for technical deliverables like power factor, net metering and even resultant by-product utilisation like sludge will be established. Fidelity to the PPA will be audited by a highly efficient and experienced government team

Framework for cost of power

Frameworks for costing power will be determined. The quality of power from different sources cannot be the same. Any government entity ignorant of this fact will be ineffective in negotiating a good deal for her people.

In the absence of technologically advanced power sources like nuclear, diesel power becomes a key source of high-quality in terms of voltage stabilization.

However, this source can be very expensive if it doubles as a grid base load. To mitigate against this, the government will maximise its potential in geothermal energy and other green energy sources like solar.

There is great potential in agribusiness optimisation from sugar factory utilization of steam turbines as alternative green thermal power. The focus will be to reduce diesel power plant utilisation to a paltry 10 per cent of the grid supply.

Next will be segmenting and grading the high-load centres. The government will gazette high-load centres for strategic geographical placement of stabilisation units. These centres will then result in minimum utilisation of costly power. Utilisation premiums will then be renegotiated based on the new load centres.

A powerful government task force can midwife these processes. This is a strategic master stroke.

- The writer is an engineer and ICT and energy consultant