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Power Rationing: What Can Be Done (Editorial) Source: Africa News Service Publication date: 2000-05-20

Nairobi - A very dark period looms for Kenyans of all walks of life, especially those in the manufacturing and service industries, as they brace themselves for further power rationing. Rationing is inevitable considering that, at the moment, the country is in the unenviable position of generating only half the power it requires.

Since September, last year, when the situation was not so bad, power has been rationed four hours a day, three days a week. From next week, according to the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, power will be rationed for much longer hours.

This eventuality will, of course, have a deleterious effect on an economy already truly battered. Right now, many consumers are outraged that, besides being subjected to longer hours of rationing, they will be expected to pay a lot more for a lot less power. However, the sector has little choice but to charge more if, as it must, it takes stop-gap measures to supplement the little power available.

The greatest sufferer will, of course, be industry. It will be forced to operate at half capacity. Not only will manufacturers be adversely affected, the tourism and hospitality sector, which was only beginning to lift itself up from the doldrums, will be dealt a body blow. All this will lead to loss of production capacity, which will, in turn, translate into loss of jobs and higher prices for manufactured goods.

There are few options for the power generating and distributing companies to raise the levels of the water reservoirs in the hydroelectric plants. Some power can probably be imported from Uganda, and moves to that effect are already underway, but that is not a lasting solution. In the next three years, perhaps, enough power may be generated from sources other than the hydro-based plants - say, geothermal, solar or diesel-based sources. In the meantime, however, we just have to do with what we have.

Yet the managers of the power sector cannot escape blame for treating the power crisis so casually when they could have prepared Kenyans as early as in the middle of last year to brace themselves for the worst. It is not as though the managers have suddenly discovered there is a crisis. They could have passed on the information to industrialists in good time. As matters stand now, there is only a week before serious rationing begins. What can the industrialists do in that short period? With what are they expected to purchase alternative sources of energy at this late hour?

But where there is a will, there is a way. To rectify this cock- up, the government can do one of two things to ensure production losses do not push the industrial sector to the wall.

First, for production to continue apace even during the rationing days, the government can offer generous tax rebates on imported generators to lighten the load for those manufacturers who might want to take quick action.

Secondly, it could seek ways of reducing or doing away altogether with tariffs on diesel imports so industries can afford to run these alternative sources of power.

These measures will most definitely cost the government some revenue, but the loss will not be as high as that likely to be inflicted on the economy if the manufacturing plants are forced to run at half capacity.

In the meantime, ordinary domestic consumers worried about their refrigerators and television sets should start thinking of how to diversify their sources of electric energy. The cost of solar power, for instance, is on the higher side. But it could be a worthy investment if the government intervenes to ensure these alternative measures are affordable.

-- Martin Thompson (, May 20, 2000


May 23, 2000 - 03:23 PM

Kenya Rations Power in Face of Hydroelectric Shortfall By Chege Mbitiru Associated Press Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - With scant rain drying up lakes that power hydroelectric dams, Kenya announced stringent power-rationing Tuesday with 12-hour cuts, six days a week. Manufacturers say existing rationing already is destroying the shrinking industrial base in this East African nation of 29 million and that further reductions will only make thing worse.

Beginning Monday, all domestic users will experience power cuts from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., manufacturers from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., Energy Minister Francis Masakhalia said.

"Arrangements have been made to ensure that essential services are not interrupted," Masakhalia told a news conference.

He said police patrols will be substantially increased in industrial areas to ensure security during the shutdowns.

The Kenya Power and Lighting Co., a partially government-owned monopoly that distributes power generated by the recently split-off Kenya Electricity Generating Co., introduced six-hour, three days a week, power cuts in September.

The rationing will not apply in the central business district of the capital, Nairobi, where most government offices are also located.

Critics accuse the Ministry of Energy of failing to act on warnings last November that a failure of the April-May rains would hurt the hydroelectric plants that produce most of Kenya's electricity.

The national daily power output has dropped from 580 megawatts to 480 megawatts. New York, in comparison, uses more than 30,000 megawatts at peak summer demand.

Masakhalia said the government is negotiating to buy 30 megawatts from neighboring Uganda and considering renting a diesel power plant and repairing a retired 30 megawatt diesel plant at the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa.

Renting a plant needed to meet the current average 180 megawatt shortfall at peak hours will cost $10 million a month and consume diesel worth $20 million, a cost that would have to be passed on to consumers, the energy minister said.

Masakhalia said construction is under way on at least six geothermal and thermal plants to reduce dependency on hydroelectricity, but none of the plants will be operational before next year.

Although rainfall is expected to increase slightly between May and August, it will not improve water levels in dams until September, when the yearly short rains begin.

-- Martin Thompson (, May 23, 2000.

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