Three major transmission failures that occurred within hours of each other on Tuesday plunged Kenya into its worst nationwide power blackout in recent years amid rising sabotage fears.
By last night, officials from Kenya Power and Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) were racing to find what had caused the third failure on major lines in under 24 hours.
Tuesday’s was the third national blackout in the past four years even as Kenya Power and Ketraco were caught up in a fresh blame game on who was responsible for the failures.
Sources familiar with the Tuesday intrigues told the Business Daily that the first incident happened on Monday night and was resolved quietly, only to be followed by another major failure at 10.45 am that resulted in a nationwide blackout. The third failure happened after 5 pm and was yet to be resolved by the time of going to press.
The blackouts resulted in yet-to-be quantified financial losses due to economic disruptions.
Kenya Power said the mid-morning outage on its grid happened after towers supporting a high-voltage power line linking Nairobi to the Kiambere hydroelectric dam collapsed at around 10.45 am.
The monopoly did not publicly disclose what caused the fall of the towers, but insiders said earlier indications pointed to possible vandalism of the installation based at Nairobi’s Imara Daima area.
“It appears this is a case of vandalism, but this is not yet conclusive. The line is near a slum dwelling,” the Kenya Power official said. “Yes, it is an old-line, but it has been very stable at least for the longest time I have been here.”
The 10.45 am outage took nearly four hours before some parts were restored after repair works by Kenya Power.
By 5 pm, the utility said power had been restored to all parts of the country except Kitui, Mwingi and Garissa which it expected to reconnect supply by 6 pm.
The utility, however, reported another major fault on the Suswa-Embakasi high-voltage line, affecting sections of the Nairobi Central Business District, Kilimani, Hurlingham, Syokimau, Athi River, Kitengela, Mlolongo and adjacent areas.
It was not immediately clear what caused the third hitch, with Kenya Power indicating its engineers were working with those from Ketraco “to locate the fault and address it”.
Manufacturers, commercial building owners, warehouses, farmers and small businesses such as salons and barbershops largely depend on electricity to operate.
An extended outage usually leads to losses and additional expenses from using generators.
Frequent blackouts due to supply shortfalls — and sometimes because of ageing distribution and transmission infrastructure — have forced most businesses and wealthy homes to have standby generators or install solar systems.
“Whenever there’s a fault on one of our major lines, it destabilises the entire network,” the Kenya Power source said.
More than seven million customers were hit by the early morning outage of May 9, 2020 following a fault on a section of a high-voltage line transmitting electricity to Nairobi from the Olkaria geothermal power plants near Naivasha.
The fault in May 2020, which also affected Uganda since the grids in the two countries are inter-connected, resulted in “power loss on the critical power line, thus overloading the other power generators countrywide”.
A similar outage was reported on January 9, 2018, due to a “technical hitch” and also disrupted supply in Uganda.
Tuesday’s blackout came barely two weeks after the State-controlled utility firm and Ketraco restored power transmission from 310.25-megawatt Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) on Loiyangalani line to the Suswa substation which had collapsed in December.
This had resulted in power rationing in some parts of the country, including Nairobi, during peak hours from 7pm to 9.30pm.
Latest data, however, suggests the frequency and longevity of blackouts has fallen in recent years.
For example, the average time customers were cut off power supply — technically referred to as Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI) — dropped to 4.03 hours in the year ended June 2021 compared with 4.52 hours in the prior year.
“By expeditiously addressing network outages and improving our system reliability in general, we managed to improve our sales by 34GWh, which is approximately Sh360 million in revenues,” Kenya Power wrote in annual report for the period through June 2021.
The blackout came at a time the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) is seeking to compel electricity utilities to compensate consumers for financial losses, equipment damage, physical injuries and death due to power outages.
Currently, Kenya Power compensates for injuries and damaged kits but does not pay for financial loss as a result of being cut off electricity supply.
The draft regulations will see Kenya adopt the model in most European countries that require utilities to compensate users whose homes and businesses are cut off power for prolonged periods if it becomes law.
In 2015, the government rejected a proposed law that required Kenya Power to compensate businesses whose power is cut off for more than three hours within a day.
The Bill, which had been sponsored by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir, had proposed that Kenya Power include the compensation in power bills and use it to offset future electricity costs.