East Africa news update – Power companies blamed for lack of foresight / planning


As the East African region continues to suffer from unacceptable and entirely avoidable power cuts business and civil society leaders are ganging up against power companies and government oversight bodies and ministries, demanding answers why such outages should hit the region with a regularity, stemming from negligence and lack of planning.

While Rwanda seems to manage their power shortages in the best possible fashion, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have again fallen victim to wide spread ‘load shedding’ a word creation by the electricity companies to explain away their failures.

There is light on the horizon only in Uganda, where the IPS promoted Bujagali Energy will start producing at the very latest by early November, starting with 50 MW and progressively moving to 250 MW by April 2012.

That will allow the country to phase out expensive diesel powered thermal plants, for which contractual subsidies must be paid by government, a crippling burden considering the cost of fuel right now. Still, having no power is more expensive in the long run as industrialists are now vocally protesting against electricity rationing with some threatening to move their businesses to a country where power is assured around the clock and not subject  on / off / on / off schedules.

In Tanzania the problem has been gradually worsening in recent months, are frequently referred to in articles here, but again is attributed to the lack of preventive and scheduled maintenance of power plants, causing breakdowns of equipment and, as recently during a major football cup match, power cuts extending across the entire country.

Even in Kenya were warnings sounded earlier in the week that the country should brace for ‘load shedding’, but the gentle words cannot mask the fact that extended parts of Nairobi and other cities and towns will begin to sit in darkness from tomorrow onwards, as here too hydro generating capacity has suffered from the drought while thermal plants are not operating at full capacity again due to the current cost of fuels.

Kenya presently has 650 MW of wind power under development in two approved plants in the Turkana area and is hastening, belatedly it must be said, the exploration for geothermal power sources, where in particular in the Menengai crater area of Nakuru drilling is ongoing and added generation, on a 10MW at a time feed, is being pursued.

However, the crucial words are belated and unprepared, as power distributors and power producers were long aware of medium term weather and rain forecasts and had experience from their colleagues in the region of breakdowns of equipment caused by lack of maintenance, or shutdown of thermal plants due to lack of fuel.

For sure one thing across the region is a constant, that in times of economic hardship governments and regulators better not mess with the private sector, which is the only source able to improve the immediate outlook and that is exactly what is being done right now. ‘Lack of electricity has shot back to the top of the business associations agendas in all of East Africa. But that is being chased by demands from business leaders for more prudent spending of our tax money, cutting out waste in government and bringing corruption under control. When business confidence suffers as it does right now, governments cannot ignore justifiable demands by the business community and think it will not be forgotten. If the business community turns their support and allegiance away from government, how can they sustain themselves beyond the next elections? We are tired of hearing their songs about private sector being the engine of growth and yet they starve that very engine of fuel. Let them know they are being closely watched’ said one leading association head in Kampala to this correspondent, serving notice of discontent on behalf of his membership.

Meanwhile though the region is struggling to continue live as ‘normal’ albeit without power every second night in Uganda and more irregular power cuts in Kenya and Tanzania. Businesses and those domestic households which can afford the expense are also investing where possible in solar panels and inverter systems or else pay through the proverbial nose for diesel or petrol to power their inhouse generators.

Watch this space. 

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