The announcement that 310 megawatts from the Turkana Wind Power plant are to be connected to the national electricity grid by next week is on the face of it very good news for Kenyans. The sustainable power project that kicked off with controversy-- when the World Bank refused to back it citing lack of viability-- has been delayed for several months leaving consumers facing billions of shillings in penalties.
Wind power being three times cheaper than diesel-generated electricity should save Kenyans billions of shillings, which is good news to households and industries that have been grappling with ridiculous power bills from retailer Kenya Power Company even before the higher tariffs were implemented last month. The cheaper wind power will save Kenyans from paying for fuel adjustments that come with the use of diesel generators.
We can only urge the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to swiftly unplug the thermal power and also plan for its orderly decommissioning.
While we recognise that the Independent Power Producers play an important redundancy role, it is only important that we think of alternative sources of power, especially to mitigate against dwindling hydropower resources. Incidentally solar, wind and geothermal can be good standby options in times of drought.
The Ministry of Energy, however, still has to come out clearly on the penalty costs associated with delays of the wind power connection that may spoil the party for Kenyans. While it is reported that Kenya will be spared Sh1 billion penalty for taking the power in a few days, in the past there have been reports of threat of penalties running into billions of shillings. The public must be told clearly whether this is likely to materialise and at exactly what cost on their monthly bills.
Again, the ministry must tell the public what the excess power from the wind plant, which they must underwrite, will cost the public. More importantly, energy officials should tap experience gained from the troubled project in licensing more power producers to avoid costly oversupply and projects that require the kind of expensive power transmission lines that were required to bring the power from Marsabit. Lessons learnt could also be useful on the controversial coal power project in Lamu that will also need to be connected to the national grid.
At the end of the day, the government must quantifiably demonstrate that the wind power was worth it by bringing down the cost of electricity.