Enact legislation to liberalise energy sector

Victor Bwire

The delay to enact relevant energy-related laws and policies to regulate the sector in a changed environment is frustrating the opening up the industry for growth and enabling Kenyans to access affordable power.

The sector is facing instability as seen in the ever increasing cost of power and fuel, as public entities involved in energy matters continue to issue conflicting policy directives.

We are yet to decentralise the national power grid system and even in areas which could have enjoyed cheap energy, still suffer because of the inefficiencies related to the management of the national power grid. Many people, frustrated by the unreliability of power sourced from the national grid, resort to alternative means, which are still illegal within the existing legal regime.

The challenges in the sector include protectionists policies which are out of tune with current realities and inadequate investment in generation and unreliable distribution and transmission system. Other challenges are lack of accurate data, exclusion of stakeholders and inadequate financing.

The country has a huge potential. We already generate more energy than the country needs through the diversification of sources including wind, solar, geothermal and biomass as a way promoting environmental protection and increasing energy security.

Parliament must pass the various legislations to pave way for practical policies that will allow the sector to play the enabler role in the Big Four agenda.

The country must re-asses or power generation and distribution business model with a view of making energy costs bearable. As currently being done, Kenya Power bears the blame, with people calling for either privatising it or government relaxing the protectionist gloves it has extended to the company, which runs purely as a profit making entity answerable to its shareholders.

Among the suggestions stakeholders have put forward towards improving the energy sector through a regulatory and policy framework in the proposed energy laws is to allow the establishment of privately run mini-grids, terminate existing exploitative agreements with  independent power producers, transparent billing system, clear roles for the various players in the sector and  facilitating the process of public private partnership.

The mini-grids can be powered through wind or solar technology or hybrid system that partly utilises thermal generation. In addition to the serious technical challenges including the exploding transformers, the current policy regime does not facilitate the sector to allow serious investment especially by the private sector.

Both the Ministry of Energy and the Parliamentary Committee on energy need to move with speed and streamline the regulatory and policy framework that will among others break the monopoly of Kenya Power more players are allowed to contribute to the national grid.

Options include tapping into existing public infrastructure to lower costs of connection and distribution, allow partnerships with non-State actors interested in the energy sector and focus more on the available renewable energy sources.

—The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya and is an environmental journalist —[email protected]

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