Over the past couple of years, the energy sector has been intense with activity and awash with pronouncements of progress.
In the four years of the Jubilee administration, Kenya has expanded its generation capacity by more than 400MW to 2,300 megawatts.
Billions of shillings – a significant portion of it in loans – have been invested in the sector to further expand and diversify power source, strengthen transmission lines and establish new base stations.
Utility firm, Kenya Power, has been happy to make public figures showing more than two million consumers have been connected to the national grid over the same period.
Yet the economic activity continues to be grossly disrupted by outages whose frequency has only intensified as was the case on Monday when Kenya’s key economic centres of Nairobi and coastal region were left without power for hours causing billions of shillings in losses to business and households.
Monday’s was the third major blackout since June, a state of affairs that cannot be said to support the progress gospel that managers of the sector have been preaching.
That the country has enough power to support its economy is not in question. What is clear is that the system of transmission remains creaky and rusty – causing billions of shillings in transmission losses and occasioning the costly blackouts.
Given the billions of shillings that Kenya Power and KenGen have taken in debt to invest in the system, this state of affairs is simply intolerable.
Perhaps this is the point when these utility firms, together with the Ministry of Energy, should stop and reflect on the sector’s priorities.
The choice they must make is whether it is prudent to continue foisting the number of new connections as the key measure of success or take other measures such as number and frequency of outages, the amount and trajectory of system losses as well as the cost of electricity as parameters of health.
The bottom-line is that for Kenya to realise its ambition of becoming a newly industrialised state by 2030, it will need a realiable and affordable supply of electricity.
Expanding the number of customers connected to the national grid – though important – will begin to look only ridiculous if the millions of connected business premises and homes will stay hours on end without electricity and with increasing frequency.
Most important, energy sector reforms must address the pivotal point of cost of electricity.
Supplying expensive power to households and businesses will only act to reverse whatever goals the country hopes to achieve through the expanded connections as millions of small businesses and domestic consumers will not pay up forcing the suppliers to disconnect.
Let’s keep our eyes on the right ball.