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Ruto reads riot act to CSs over embarrassing power outages

President William Ruto chairs a cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi. [File, PCS]

President William Ruto has reprimanded State officials over the recurring nationwide electricity outages.

The president said the frequent power blackouts were hurting Kenya as an investment destination and could have resulted in investors turning to other countries to set up shop instead. 

The latest outage on Sunday evening took more than 12 hours before power sector agencies could restore electricity across the country.

During a Cabinet meeting yesterday, the president told his Cabinet secretaries that going forward, the embarrassing power outages will not be acceptable. 

“I would like to inform you today that the embarrassing power blackouts that have been experienced across the entire country severally since the year began are not going to be acceptable going forward, all stakeholders must play their roles to ensure it does not happen again,” said Ruto.

The Energy ministry explained that the Sunday night blackout was caused by the overloading of the Kisumu-Muhoroni transmission line. Due to overloading, the power line tripped and brought down the entire system with it. 

The line, according to the ministry, is designed to carry 80 megawatts but was transmitting 129MW and a surge in electricity demand saw this go up to 149MW, a load too heavy that resulted in its collapse.

As a short-term measure, the country will now have to go back to the infamous days of power rationing, Davis Chirchir CS Energy and Petroleum said on Monday.

Denying power to some of the consumers at certain times during the day is expected to relieve the overloaded power lines and prevent further instances where the whole grid is affected. 

The nationwide power blackout on Sunday is the latest of many in the recent past. This year alone, the country experienced crippling countrywide outages in March, August and November. On November 11, Chirchir at the time said the blackout had been caused by the loss of a transmission line connecting two major power generating sites at Olkaria.

System disturbance

On August 25, a similar blackout that lasted more than 20 hours was caused by what Kenya Power said was a system disturbance caused by a trip at the Lake Turkana Wind Power plant in Marsabit.

The country was on March 4, this year, plunged in a similar blackout, which was linked to a fault on one of the key transmission lines, according to Kenya Power.

At the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Ruto said that to deal with the overloading of transmission lines, particularly those transporting electricity to Western Kenya, the Bomet-Narok line will be built at a cost of $250 million (37.5 billion). The government has already secured funding from the African Development Bank.

The president noted that it was unfortunate that the line that was funded in 2016 had not been built due to legal disputes.

Frequent outages

The frequent outages have seen Kenya Power’s System Average Interruption Frequency Index (Saifi) reliability indicator increase to 44.9 in the year to June 2023 from 38.18 in 2022. Over the year to June 2021, the score was at 29.29. Saifi is the average number of interruptions that a customer experiences and the higher the score, the higher the number of outages, which basically means a power utility is doing a poor job of keeping the lights on.

Ruto told the Cabinet meeting that his administration is also giving priority to the $57 million (8.55 billion) KenGen solar power project at the Seven Forks Dam that will provide a safeguard against power failure.

The Energy ministry also said it is looking at Public Private Partnerships in the construction and maintenance of power transmission lines.

On Monday, Chirchir noted that the major challenge that the country has been experiencing is the under-investment in the maintenance of power transmission infrastructure. The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, which is 100 per cent funded by the Exchequer, has had to do with funding cuts due to budget constraints.

Ruto said that the 42MW Seven Forks Dam project would also be equipped with a huge battery storage system, which when power fails, the stored energy kicks in with the project helping to save hydro-power at the five dams that make up the Seven Forks.

At the same time, Ruto informed the Cabinet that negotiations on the Kenya-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement have been completed with this expected to be signed next week, giving Kenya more access to the European Union market and will be taken to Parliament for ratification.

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