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Kenya: Blackouts, rising bills as drought bites

Monday July 25 2011

Left: Motorists on a dark road in Nairobi on November 1, 2009 night as the city experienced a blackout for close to four hours. Right: Wajir residents walk past carcasses of livestock on July 20, 2011 in Athibohol, North East of Nairobi.

Photos/AFP and FILE Left: Motorists on a dark road in Nairobi on November 1, 2009 as the city experienced a blackout. Right: Wajir residents walk past carcasses of livestock on July 20, 2011.  

By MWANIKI WAHOME [email protected]

Parts of Kenya will be in darkness on Wednesday as the power company starts rationing electricity to homes and factories.

The blackouts will be at the most inconvenient of times — between 6.40pm and 9.30pm — when children do homework and families sit down to dinner and watch TV.

Kenya Power has a 90 megawatt shortfall that will have to be taken care of through expensive emergency generators, meaning high power bills for both domestic and industrial consumers.

Hit by the current drought, the company has been forced to use the water in the power dams sparingly to stretch it to the next rains towards the end of the year.

Besides the drought, broken down generators, failure by private power suppliers to abide by their obligations and failure to install new generating machines have all contributed to the crisis.

The worst of the blackouts will be in Nairobi, Rift Valley and Western parts of the country. Coast, which relies on diesel-generated power, is not affected by the rationing.


Power blackouts are timed to ease demand at peak times for both domestic and industrial users. Industries will be particularly affected because they will have to reschedule production to non-peak hours and suffer down times.

In Nairobi, industries around Baba Dogo, which include Chandaria Industries, Kenafric, EPZ, Cussons (EA), Sharaz, and Ketepa, among others, will not have power on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The same applies to factories in Athi River area like Steel plant and Apex steel.

In industrial area, power will be rationed on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will affect Crown paints, Pembe Flour Mills, Mastermind Tobacco, and Kenya Wine Agencies Limited, among others.

In North Rift, Highlands Papermills, Arky industries, Rift Valley Bottlers, and Eldoret Grain Millers, among others, will be without power on Tuesdays. Industries in Nakuru will not have electricity on Fridays.

Thika Cloth Mills will be in darkness on Mondays and Del Monte on Wednesdays. Other sectors such as tea, dairy and coffee in these areas will also be affected.

Kenya Power managing director Joseph Njoroge said efforts will be made to spare sensitive places such as hospitals, security installations and water supply facilities “as much as is practically possible”.

The last time the company rolled out a power rationing programme was in 2000 when drought reduced the water levels in the Seven Forks dams, leading to the shutdown of Kamburu dam.

The blackouts may be eased as soon as generators that have been shut down for service are fixed.

Mr Njoroge said breakdown of thermal generators, unavailability of the contracted 26 megawatts from Mumias Sugar Company due to lack of bagasse and delay in the commissioning of new generators due to long processing period for payments of security guarantees had made the shortage worse.

In Western Kenya, the problem is even worse because the transmission system does not have adequate capacity to transport available power from the eastern part of the country.

Demand for power has been rising at eight per cent a year, with the expansion of economic activities and increased domestic connections that are projected to reach two million next June.

According to 2010 Economic Survey Kenya’s installed power capacity stands at 1412.2 MW, which leaves a 5 per cent margin compared to effective demand.

The power shortage could get worse if the October rains fail, since nearly half comes from hydro sources. Kenya Power buys power in bulk from both public and private sector power generators, which it then retails to its customers countrywide.

Suffer double blow

Kenya Association of Manufacturers executive director Betty Maina asked for special incentives for manufacturers who will suffer the double blow of high fuel and electricity costs.

Paint makers Crown Berger chief executive officer Rakesh Rao said his firm will have to restructure production to cover for lost time.