Kenya Power reports nationwide blackout after major line collapses


What you need to know:

  • The electricity distributor said the outage, which occurred around 10:45am was caused by a collapsed tower on the Kiambere-Embakasi high voltage transmission line this morning.
  • The firm however assured consumers that repairs on the line are currently underway with a view to restoring power supply soonest possible.

Kenyans on Tuesday endured a third countrywide power blackout in four years, which resulted in financial losses running into millions of shillings as businesses were disrupted.

Kenya Power said the outage on its grid happened after towers supporting a high-voltage power line linking Nairobi to the Kiambere hydroelectric dam collapsed. The monopoly did not publicly disclose what caused the fall of the towers, but insiders said earlier indications pointed to possible vandalism of the installation based at Nairobi’s Imara Daima area.

“It appears this is a case of vandalism, but this is not yet conclusive. The line is near a slum dwelling,” the Kenya Power official said. “Yes, it is an old-line, but it has been very stable at least for the longest time I have been here.”

The outage which was reported around 10.45 am took nearly four hours before being restored to parts of the country after repair works by the Kenya Power engineers.

By 5 pm, the utility said power had been restored to all parts of the country except Kitui, Mwingi and Garissa which it expected to reconnect supply by 6 pm.

Manufacturers, commercial building owners, warehouses, farmers and small businesses such as salons and barbershops largely depend on electricity to operate.

An extended outage usually leads to losses and additional expenses from using generators.

Frequent blackouts due to supply shortfalls — and sometimes because of aging distribution and transmission infrastructure — have forced most businesses and wealthy homes to have standby generators.

“Whenever there’s a fault on one of our major lines, it destabilises the entire network,” the Kenya Power source said.

This is the third major countrywide blackout in recent years.

More than seven million customers were hit by a major early morning outage on May 9, 2020, following a fault on a section of a high-voltage line transmitting electricity to Nairobi from the Olkaria geothermal power plants near Naivasha.

The fault in May 2020, which also affected Uganda since the grids in the two countries are inter-connected, resulted in “power loss on the critical power line thus overloading the other power generators countrywide”.

A similar outage was reported on January 9, 2018, due to a “technical hitch” and also disrupted supply in Uganda.

Tuesday’s blackout came barely two weeks after the state-controlled utility firm and Kenya Electricity Transmission Company restored power transmission from 310.25-megawatt Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) on Loiyangalani line to the Suswa substation which had collapsed in December.

This had resulted in power rationing in some parts of the country, including Nairobi, during peak hours from 7 pm to 9.30 pm.

The latest data, however, suggests the frequency and longevity of blackouts have fallen in recent years.

For example, the average time customers were cut off power supply — technically referred to as Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI) — dropped to 4.03 hours in the year ended June 2021 compared with 4.52 hours in the prior year.

“By expeditiously addressing network outages and improving our system reliability in general, we managed to improve our sales by 34GWh, which is approximately Sh360 million in revenues,” Kenya Power wrote an annual report for the period through June 2021.

The blackout came at a time the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) is seeking to compel electricity utilities to compensate consumers for financial losses, equipment damage, physical injuries and death due to power outages.

Currently, Kenya Power compensates for injuries and damaged kits but does not pay for financial loss as a result of being cut off the electricity supply.

The draft regulations will see Kenya adopt the model in most European countries that require utilities to compensate users whose homes and businesses are cut off from power for prolonged periods if they become law.

In 2015, the government rejected a proposed law that required Kenya Power to compensate businesses whose power is cut off for more than three hours within a day.

The Bill, which had been sponsored by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir, had proposed that Kenya Power include the compensation in power bills and use it to offset future electricity costs.

*** Updated

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