Peter Wanyonyi: Liberalise distribution of power

THE KENYA POWER AND LIGH-ting Company recently celebrated its one millionth customer by awarding her a refrigerator. Its management ought to be sacked en masse for celebrating such failure.

KPLC was established 85 years ago. It has taken that long to connect one million customers. This works out to just over 30 customers a day – for 85 years.

And this in a captive market where KPLC is the only legal electricity distributor, a market with massive growth potential that is held back only by the mediocrity that masquerades as power services from KPLC.

The tale of the corporation hides some details: for, with KPLC, getting connected and staying connected to the power grid are rather different matters. Virtually all KPLC customers incur extra costs to ensure continuity in the face of the corporation’s erratic services.

The power consumer has effectively had to develop a lifestyle that presumes at least a few hours of “power rationing” every day. It is virtually unheard of to have a full week of uninterrupted power.

The KPLC story is parallel to that of the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation and its successors.

Initially set up as part of the East African Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, KPTC became independent after the break-up of the EAC in 1977.

Faced with eventual collapse, the parastatal was eventually broken up into Telkom Kenya, the Postal Corporation of Kenya, and the Communications Commission of Kenya – to provide telecommunications, postal and regulatory services, respectively.

However, it was only the liberalisation of the mobile phone sector in the late 1990s, and the entry of private, service-driven and market-oriented companies, that allowed the majority of Kenyans to access and enjoy telephone services.

KPLC’s development has mirrored this path – to a point. Originally part of the East Africa Power and Lighting Corporation, the company became KPLC when the EAC broke up.

THERE FOLLOWED AN EXTENDED period of dormancy, in which KPLC became a byword for corruption.

Eventually, KPLC was broken up into KenGen, KPLC itself, and a regulatory body. But, unlike the telecoms sector, the power sector has not been taken fully down the path to liberalisation.

The Government continues to dither as the State utility sets ridiculously low targets for itself, and then fails to meet them.

The statistics are embarrassing. With demand expected to top 1500 MW by 2010, KPLC/KenGen’s installed generating capacity is little over that “in normal weather conditions”.

This means that a little drought starves consumers of power, while system losses in transmission and distribution mean that the effective capacity of our power sector is actually less than 60 per cent of the installed capacity.

And as the absurd “celebration” in Mombasa points out, KPLC is way behind target: a mere 16 per cent of Kenyans have access to power. KPLC answers such concerns with a silly excuse: that “KPLC only distributes what KenGen and other producers sell it”.

This raises questions which the Government has so far failed to answer: how to speed up the electrification of Kenya, and how to ensure stability of power supplies throughout the country.

The answer is obvious: increasing efficiency and supplies by fully liberalising the power generation and distribution.

In response to pressure from the World Bank, the government allowed a few Independent Power Producers into the sector when Kenya faced severe power shortages a few years back. But even these are a mere drop.

What is required is a complete removal of the monopolies enjoyed by both KPLC and KenGen.

Mr Wanyonyi is an information systems professional working in the Middle East.

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