EDITORIAL: Promises of cheaper power yet to be fulfilled

Kenya Power employee inspects a meter box
A Kenya Power employee inspects a meter box. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Coming after the government’s multiple promises to Kenyans that the cost of electricity would come down across the board, the new electricity billing structure is certainly a big letdown to many consumers.

While the new structure broadly standardises the tariff and makes it more predictable, it is clear that – for many domestic consumers – the bills will be higher under the new regime.

In recent years as the country expanded its generation mix and increased the amount coming from renewable and cheaper sources such as geothermal, Kenyans have been expecting the cost of power to fall significantly.

That is why the sense of insincerity in the latest announcement is so stark, and public outcry so loud.

Besides, pegging the adjustments on variable costs such as the foreign exchange and fuel cost that contribute to high power pricing that keep changing from time to time with changes in the macro-economic environment looks hollow.

For millions of consumers, the energy regulator added insult to injury by backing up its adjustment with a statement professing the need for “a sustainable and affordable tariff”.

Besides, in focusing on the removal of fixed charges and announcing that this would amount to a reduction in monthly charges, ERC appears to be more concerned with public relations rather than the quality of service to consumers.

A public utility that seeks to win the trust of its customers does need to remain truthful and frank in its dealings with the public however unpalatable the truth may be. It cannot hope to realise its objectives through propagandist communication that cares not how consumers will feel when they are ultimately sent higher bills despite the promise that the tariffs are falling.

It is the same Kenyan consumer -- now burdened with high electricity costs – who has been funding the development of new and alternative sources of energy. It does not make sense that even after paying for these investments and expecting some relief, there is nothing to show for it, and the cost of power keeps rising.

Most importantly, it makes little sense for Kenya Power to keep announcing billions of shillings in profit while the customer is burdened by multiple challenges, including irregular supply and high cost of electricity.

This is especially so because as a monopoly, there are no significant alternatives to turn to.

It is our considered submission that energy sector managers must take a broader approach to costing of electricity because it has a major ripple effect on the economy.

There can be justification in making this critical utility more expensive and hurting Kenya’s competitiveness in the global markets.