Power imports nearly triple on biting drought

Power lines connecting pylons of high-tension electricity are seen from the power substation at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Loiyangalani District, Marsabit County, Northern Kenya on September 4, 2018. PHOTO | REUTERS

Electricity imports nearly tripled in the 11 months to November last year, helping compensate for a slight drop in local generation and helping Kenya avoid heavy reliance on the expensive thermal plants.

Official data shows that Kenya Power imported 779.1 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) in the review period, a jump of 170 percent from 288.2 million kWh in the same period last year.

The rise came at a time local generation dipped slightly to 11,526.69 million kWh from 11,592.93 million kWh due to the prolonged drought that dimmed hydro-electricity production.

Increased imports, driven by supplies from Ethiopia helped Kenya avoid turning to thermal plants, whose electricity is costliest and forced consumers to pay more.

Generation from thermal plants fell 15 percent to 1,236.1 million kWh in the review period compared to 1,452.1 million kWh in the 11 months to November 2022, highlighting the impact of increased imports.

The Cabinet in November directed the Ministry of Energy and Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority to explore ways of ensuring that consumers enjoyed the benefits of the reduced use of power from thermal plants.

“The Cabinet directs the Ministry of Energy to pass the benefit of lower electricity tariffs to the public in a manner that promotes the increased use of hydro-generated power, which has presently increased to 20 per cent while diesel has gone down from 15 per cent to 10 per cent," read a Cabinet dispatch from the sitting held on November 27, last year.

But Kenya did not enjoy the benefits partly due to the discontinuation of the 15 percent electricity price cuts and the upward review of retail tariffs that was gazetted in April this year.

Prepaid consumers got 15.3 kWh for Sh500 in November last year, a drop from the 20.2 kWh for the same amount in November 2022.

Kenya grappled with a prolonged drought for the better part of last year that cut generation from the dams. Heavy rains towards the end of last year have however set the stage for significant rise in hydro-generation.

Data shows that imports from Ethiopia drove the spike in electricity shipments with Kenya Power buying 546.5 kWh in the 11 months to November last year, a 4,950 percent jump from 10.82 kWh in the same period of 2022.

Imports from Uganda dropped 16.1 percent to 232.59 kWh in the period under review from 277.47 kWh in the same period of 2022.

Kenya Power imports electricity from the two countries, having signed a power purchase deal with Ethiopia Electric Power in 2022.

Supplies from the two countries have been crucial in helping Kenya avoid frequent outages and rationing despite the dwindling hydro-generation amid increased demand.

Electricity from Ethiopia is priced at 6.5 US cents per kilowatt but Kenya is keen to renegotiate the tariff from 2027 at the earliest in line with the agreement.

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