The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has taken over investigations into the collapse of high voltage electricity transmission lines that caused a nationwide power outage, as initial inquiry pointed to vandalism by scrap metal dealers.
DCI boss George Kinoti on Wednesday said his officers had taken interest in Tuesday’s collapse of four steel pylons in Nairobi’s Imara Daima area, causing hours of a nationwide blackout that continued to affect parts of the country yesterday.
“We can’t rule out anything until investigations establish the probable cause,” said Mr Kinoti when asked whether there was an element of sabotage behind the extraordinary caving in of the heavy towers that support the 220-kilometre high voltage Kiambere-Embakasi transmission line.
Kenya Power Company on Wednesday blamed the fall of the four pylons on vandalism by scrap metal dealers, which the utility firm said had weakened the heavy structures.
The utility firm said the vandals had significantly chipped away at the pylons’ steel structures, which led to their collapse on Tuesday morning resulting in loss of power supply to millions of Kenyans.
It said the vandals came from the nearby Mukuru kwa Njenga slums from where they gradually cut away at the towers, usually at night, and later sold them to scrap metal dealers.
“Our investigations indicate that the Kiambere – Embakasi power line collapsed due to vandalism of support bracings in four transmission towers near Imara Daima Estate in Nairobi,” Kenya Power said in a statement to Nation.
The vandalism claim raises questions as to the adequacy of vigilance around major power transmission lines across the country, given their strategic importance to the national economy and security.
The electricity distribution firm said it is working with security agencies to prevent vandalism of its towers to reduce outages arising from such incidences.
“We continue to enlist the support of security agencies, customers, public members and other stakeholders to prevent similar incidents from occurring in future,” Kenya Power said.
The hours-long power outage also raised questions on disaster preparedness and back-up systems at the corporation, which should have kicked in to provide consumers an alternative given the fact that Kenya Power is a State monopoly.
The pylons came tumbling down on Tuesday at about 10.45am, cutting off the decades-old line that evacuates power from the 168-megawatt Kiambere Hydropower Station.
Businesses, households and hospitals that rely on Kenya Power to run their operations, keep food refrigerated and support life-saving machines counted heavy losses as the blackout persisted.
By Tuesday evening Kenya Power said it had restored supply to most parts of the country with the exception of Garissa, Mwingi and Kitui by re-routing the line.
But moments after releasing the statement, the company issued another one announcing another failure on its network that left the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD), Embakasi, Kilimani, Hurlingham, Syokimau and other areas without power for nearly a day.
“A 220 kilovolt Suswa – Embakasi power transmission line that evacuates power to Athi River and City Centre bulk substations has developed a sustained fault this evening,” it said.
Kenya Power yesterday afternoon said it had located the issue that took out the line and promised to fix it by evening.
“We have identified the technical fault on the Suswa – Embakasi high voltage transmission line that tripped electricity, cutting supply to parts of Nairobi yesterday (Tuesday) evening,” it said.
“Engineers from the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) are on site to repair the line and pave way for restoration of normal power supply by 5pm this evening,” said Kenya Power.
The frequent power outages, which began on Monday evening, have raised suspicion of deliberate sabotage.
They also come weeks after four towers also collapsed in Longonot, last month, cutting off power supply from the 310 megawatt Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) plant in Loiyangalani, Marsabit.
The DCI yesterday said it has multiple active investigations into Kenya Power’s operations.
“We have many investigations on Kenya Power. So many including those in court that sent almost entire management to court,” said Mr Kinoti.
President Uhuru Kenyatta late last year appointed a taskforce to drive reforms in the electricity sector, which recommended the transfer of power transmission lines to Ketraco to leave Kenya Power with the sole mandate of distributing electricity.
It recommended the preliminary short-term transfer to be done before the end of last year, to be followed by a full transfer by July this year after evaluation of transmission assets.
“The operation and maintenance aspect of Kenya Power’s transmission system to be transferred to Ketraco in the short term through an operations and maintenance contract subject to SLA (service level agreement),” said the taskforce.
Kenyans who spoke to the Nation said their businesses had been brought to a standstill by the blackout.
“Kenya Power says that they have fully restored power to all the affected areas. However, this is not true,” Gibson Wachira, a resident of Imara Daima, told Nation on Wednesday.
“At Imara Daima Estate there has been no electricity since the outage yesterday. Foods preserved in fridges and freezers risk going bad. Kenya Power ought to give an update on what caused the pylon collapse and why in Imara Daima Estate and some areas, power has not yet been restored,” he said.
Humphrey Ashiono, a resident of Embakasi who works at a factory in Mlolongo, yesterday evening said power supply was yet to be restored to his home as well as at his workplace.
Loss of revenue
“I am currently at work and we have been using a generator since the outage that has forced us to reduce our operations. I have called home and I am told that our electricity supply is yet to be restored,” said Mr Ashiono.
A highly placed source at Ketraco raised doubts over the possibility of the four towers coming down at once in the absence of an adverse weather event such as strong winds.
The source said it is a requirement that at least four spare towers are kept for emergency replacement in case of such happenings, which would lead to a seamless restoration of the line.
“I have been in this industry for a long time and we have not had eight towers collapse in the span of weeks unless we have had extreme weather. Usually, it is strong winds that collapse the towers,” said the source.
“We are sensing that they (Kenya Power) could be unhappy because of that (assets transfer) because last month we were also given the energy dispatch role,” added the source.
By Wednesday, Kenya Power had not repaired the towers.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) told Nation yesterday the blackout has resulted in loss of revenue running into millions of shillings.
“Yesterday’s (Tuesday) blackout, which lasted more than four hours, resulted in a revenue loss for manufacturers, going into hundreds of millions,” KAM told Nation.
“Manufacturers lost more than 4 hours of production, with others still experiencing a blackout more than 12 hours later. To continue with production, manufacturers were forced to turn to alternative sources of power, forcing them to incur additional costs,” it said.
The manufacturers wants Kenya Power to put in place system redundancies to guarantee power supply in order to build investor confidence in the country.