BY BETTY MAINA
On May 28th, there was a countrywide power blackout lasting for seven hours. Perhaps Kenya Power needs anecdotal evidence to realise what that failure did to this country.
One of our manufacturers had molten aluminum solidify in that short period the power was out. To melt it again took another seven hours with a 10 percent loss of the metal and added fuel costs all totaling to Sh250,000, a figure that doesn’t include overhead costs. A pharmaceutical company estimates it lost about Sh4 million.
They too were in the critical process of mixing and coating pharmaceutical drugs. They are now being forced to buy a heavy duty generator costing Sh10 million. If you are going to lose Sh4 million with every power blackout that Kenya Power subjects you to, then the generator option begins to look cheap. A third company had to shut down their plant for nine hours.
It takes two hours to get their machinery operating again at optimal level. They estimate a loss of Sh700,000. As If that was not enough damage, there were electrical surges after the power came back. So a fourth company had to replace equipment worth about half a million shillings because the surges caused their change over system to burn out. They also lost sales worth Sh1.6 million.
Many other businesses with backup generators incurred the added expense of buying diesel. Factor in the loss of peace of mind trying to come up with alternate solutions, calling suppliers for extra equipment or calling clients to explain the delays.
There is also the tremendous loss of company goodwill and the overhead costs of letting a whole plant lie inoperative for a day. Workers sat idly by with nothing to do while some companies cancelled the night shift altogether. Not that the wage tab decreased one jot due to this. If we are to total up all the losses that industry faced then that blackout set the economy a few paces back.
Kenya Power with all nonchalance wants us to accept this power cut with equanimity given the circumstances surrounding this particular one. Perhaps, if the failures were less frequent, we would be accommodating. But localised outages are now so recurrent they appear to be part of their standard operations.
When will they in turn grasp that these blackouts are not just inconveniencing industry? As bothersome as they are, that is the least of our worries. Blackouts are crippling industry, they are the bane of the manufacturing sector and Industrial firms are losing a lot of money. Every time there is a cut, businesses incur extra expenditure.
Power failure is simply unacceptable. Industries in this country consume 60pc of all energy generated in this country. A nationwide power cut means that the greatest effect was felt in the industrial sector. If the power company was to be billed for losses incurred after every cut, it would speedily get its operations in order.
A number of short term solutions exist which the Kenya Association of Manufacturers has repeatedly called for to no avail. The government should look for an alternate solution to ending Kenya Powers monopoly. Competition will make it more efficient. We also need to tap other sources of power such as wind and solar.
We are sitting on the gold mine of geothermal power that the country doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to exploit. In the meantime industry continues to suffer on the hands of one power provider. As industry goes, so goes the nation. For as long as the Kenya power continues to hold us in its power, industry will continue to incur huge losses that will translate to slower economic growth.
(The writer is the chief executive of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)