Senate to launch probe on electricity bills

Senate Committee on Energy chair Ephraim Maina. PHOTO | Francis Nderitu
Senate Committee on Energy chair Ephraim Maina. PHOTO | Francis Nderitu 

The Senate is set to launch investigations into complaints raised by Kenyans on the recent surge in their electricity bills.

Newly elected chair of the Senate Energy Committee Ephraim Maina on Tuesday said the explanation given by the Ministry of Energy regarding the increase in power bills is unsatisfactory.

Energy secretary Charles Keter on Monday attributed the rise in charges to an ongoing upgrade of Kenya Power’s #ticker:KPLC billing system.

The Business Daily last week revealed Kenya Power’s under way plan to pass onto consumers Sh8.1 billion in backdated charges incurred on diesel-generated electricity last year, but which was not factored in their monthly bills.

“We have heard the outcry by Kenyans regarding their (electricity) bills. We want to address this concern as soon as possible,” Mr Maina said shortly after being elected unopposed to chair the committee.

Mr Maina said his committee would investigate backdating of the bills.

“We will interrogate this matter because Kenyans have raised serious concerns over their electricity bills. Kenya needs cheap and accessible electricity for household and industrial use but not expensive power,” Mr Maina said.

Kenya Power revealed plans to pass on to consumers the hefty bill in its annual financial statement for the year ended June 2017.

As a Capital Markets Authority (CMA) regulated company, Kenya Power is obligated to make disclosures of all material information in its annual statement.

It attributed it to increased uptake of expensive thermal power on the grid to compensate for a sharp dip in hydropower production during last year’s drought.

The bill is part of the Sh10.1 billion identified as unrecovered power fuel costs in the State-owned firm’s annual statement.

About Sh2 billion has been defrayed so far, leaving out Sh8.1 billion with Kenya Power having said early this month that the recovery of the arrears was ongoing.

This had the impact of inflating power bills, with fuel cost charge, which is tied to the amount of diesel-generated electricity on the grid, hitting a three-year high in December.

“I would like to state that there is no backdating of electricity bills for customers neither is there change in tariff,” Mr Keter said at the Monday press conference.

The ministry explained that the surge in fuel costs in December was caused by a blend of factors including drought, higher global fuel prices and the shutdown of a 30-megawatt geothermal plant in Naivasha’s Olkaria steam fields for routine repair.

The plant is still out and will be plugged back in next month, according to Mr Keter. The Senators said their agenda will be to ensure that the country comes out of reliance on expensive diesel power.

“We need cheap electricity. We need capital to develop our geothermal power potential. In the long term, we will as a committee look at how we will get less expensive electricity for household and industrial use,” Mr Maina said.

Nominated Senator Mary Seneta, who trounced Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina to bag the position of committee vice-chairperson, accused Kenya Power of inflating customers’ bills.

“When I listened to CS Keter yesterday (Monday) I sympathised with Kenyans. We know that Kenya Power exaggerates bills at a time when Kenyans are facing difficult economic times. We want to assist Kenyans bring their bills down,” Ms Seneta said.

Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika said there is an outcry from Kenyans over high power bills and the committee should start its work by addressing the cost of electricity.
Consumers pay a fuel cost charge through their monthly bills, which is supposed to go up when thermal power intake increases.