Kenya risks blackout on power lines repair hitch


Energy PS Gordon Kihalangwa. PHOTO | ELIZABETH OJINA | NMG

The Energy ministry has no money to procure a contractor to fix five towers on a high-voltage power line that collapsed in December and plunged the country into darkness.

The ministry declined to disclose the amount of money required from the Treasury to procure a contractor and equipment for the high-voltage transmission line, saying it might influence the tender for the works.

This raises the risk of a nationwide outage or power rationing should a temporary tower collapse, triggering financial losses from disruption of businesses.

Blackouts occur regularly in Kenya, partly because of an ageing energy network, forcing many businesses in Nairobi and other big towns to operate back-up generators or install solar systems.

In late December, the transmission line known as Loyaingalani-Suswa collapsed after damage to the five towers, knocking out some power supply and leading to rationing in parts of the country while it was being repaired.

It cut off power from the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) plant in Marsabit, which supplies about 17 percent of Kenya’s total peak electricity demand.

The line was restored two weeks later and the country has been relying on temporary measures to evacuate power from LTWP to Suswa substation.

Gordon Kihalangwa, the Energy Principal Secretary, told Parliament that the ministry had put a request to the Treasury and expects funding to be made available in the second supplementary budget.

"The five towers collapsed in Longonot, and we restored supply within two weeks. We are in the process of procurement to have the towers restored. We have requested the Treasury for funding under Supplementary II," he said.

He told the Public Investments Committee (PIC) that the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) would issue tenders for restoration of the five main towers once the Treasury provides funding.

Ketraco acting managing director Antony Omukota said the firm was evacuating power using temporary solutions.

"We have not commenced procurement for permanent solution [towers] because we have no funds. We are looking forward to getting the funds allocated in the supplementary budget," he said.

Kenya has in recent months experienced a spate of blackouts in the wake of the collapse of high-voltage power lines.

In May 2020, the country experienced a similar nationwide outage after a section of a high-voltage line that transmits power to Nairobi from the Olkaria geothermal power plants, some 75 km (45 miles) from Nairobi, broke.

In January, the country experienced another nationwide outage after towers supporting a high-voltage line connecting Nairobi to the Kiambere hydroelectric dam collapsed.

Police opened an investigation, leading to charges against three senior managers at Kenya Power for alleged sabotage and negligence. It marked the first time individuals have been charged over a power blackout.

Prosecutors accused the three of failing to maintain the towers which support the high-voltage lines, the charge sheet showed.

They were also accused of failing to take any action after damage to the towers was reported to them by members of the public weeks before the blackout.

The transmission lines and Suswa substation are owned and operated by Ketraco.

Ketraco spent Sh28.9 billion to construct the double circuit transmission line, which is rated at 400kV but currently operates at 220kV.

The utility firm awarded the transmission line contract to Isolux at a sum of Sh16.4 billion.

Isolux completed 30 percent of the work before its contract was terminated.

Nari, the contractor that took over from Isolux, was paid Sh9.6 billion while local subcontractors who did the civil works pocketed Sh1.67 billion.

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