Amid soaring electricity costs that hit an all-time high in January, the government has indicated that Masinga Dam will be shut down if it does not rain in the next two weeks.
Speaking Tuesday during the Energy Parliamentary Committee meeting at English Point Marina in Mombasa, Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter said the move is due to low water levels and drought, adding that Kenya will be forced to turn to expensive diesel generators.
“Water levels in the dam are too low to allow continued generation of electricity at the station unless it rains. We still have about five metres above sea level,” Mr Keter said.
The CS said the situation in 2018 could mirror the previous year's prolonged drought but that rains in March or April could avert the move.
“Last year was very bad. But if it rains in March or April we will be okay...We still have about five metres above sea level [at Masinga]. If the dam levels go down the implication is that we have to use a lot of thermals,” he added.
“In Mombasa we used to run 100 per cent on thermal. Right now we are doing 80 mw of geothermal direct from Olkaria. We are also connecting on hydro from Kiambere. If it goes down we have to run Rabai which runs under diesel and Kipevu 123 which also runs under diesel whose prices are going up.”
Official data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) showed that electricity bills have shot up 22 per cent in the last year.
In 2017, Masinga Dam - which lies on the border of Machakos and Embu counties - was shut down twice due to lack of water.
Sondu Miriu hydroelectric power station - located in Nyanza region - is supposed to generate 80 megawatts but is currently producing less than 10 megawatts.
Mr Keter revealed that only Turkwel Dam in West Pokot County is running at optimum capacity.
“Turkwel Dam is the only power plant which is operating very well unlike Sondu Miriu which is a runoff,” he said.
He said the country relies on hydro which is cheaper.
Turn to private sector
The CS said the government will be focusing more on the western region to increase generation of electricity, adding that private sector involvement is crucial to more funding for electricity generation projects.
“We will be bringing some policy guidelines. We will be seeking for your approval. We want most of the generation power plants to be done under Public Private Partnership. We want private investors to fast-track the potential of geothermal,” he said today as he promised to open up the sector further for private sector involvement.
Kenya’s geothermal potential is about 17,000mw, he said.
“We are only doing 800mw out of the total potential. It is capital intensive. We are number five in the world in terms of the generation. US is leading with about 3600mw while we are doing about 800mw. That is the focus area and we are seeking your support,” he added.
Masinga power station, commissioned in 1981, has an installed capacity of 40 MW.
The dam serves as a crucial reservoir, with a capacity of 1.56 billion cubic meters of water.