Energy Regulatory Commission

Customer must be priority in power distribution reforms

EDITORIAL: Customer must be priority in power distribution reforms

The increasing number of private companies seeking to wrest the monopoly of electricity distribution and retailing is a move in the right direction. This is especially so because Kenya remains a country where electricity prices are high and keep rising at the slightest excuse – while the quality of supply continues to deteriorate.News that the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is considering several applications to sell power through mini-grids, mostly generated from solar plants is refreshing as it offers some glimmer of hope that things might begin to change. Small as most of these new entrants may be, they nonetheless represent a defining policy change moment – blazing a trail that more and bigger entrants may soon follow.

For many consumers, change in the power sector has become even more imperative with the huge and unexplained inflation of monthly bills, slow and sometimes no response to complaints.It is generally agreed that injecting some form of competition in the power sector is the medicine that will help cure some of these ills. One other critical issue that was supposed to have been addressed over the past five or so years relates to power losses. To date, losses on the national grid remain high at about 20 per cent constituting a major cost not only to the distributor itself but also to consumers.While it is true that the mini-grids supply power at higher costs, the current distributors still charge consumers an initial connection fee that effectively make its offer expensive. This requires a framework to reduce the base costs for the mini-grids in order to make them less expensive and offer them a real chance of competing in a free market.One of the reasons advanced against the quick opening up of the distribution and retailing of electricity is the huge debts that the current distributor carries. A caveat should probably be added to ensure the firm does not incur more debts until it shows clear progress in achieving key performance parameters such as reduction in power losses, less outages and higher profitability. Besides. a bill should be tabled in Parliament to liberalise the power distribution sector and allow competition. Meanwhile, it should be clear to power distributors that responsiveness to customer needs is the real deal and not optional.

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