“Our short-coming is that we do not analyze the root cause of our problems, and do not learn from our past mistakes”hindpal

Exclusive interview with Mr Hindpal S. Jabbal, former chairman Energy Regulatory Commission, Kenya and featured speaker in the generation session at the upcoming African Utility Week in Cape Town in May.

1. Tell us more about your organization and your activities in the utility industry?

My background is mainly in Kenya’s Power Sector, having worked there for more than 50 years in various capacities, at a fairly senior level. I joined KPLC (now Kenya Power) in 1961, before Kenya’s Independence, as a Junior Engineer. I gradually rose to the position of Protection Engineer, then Chief Engineer (Planning), and finally Corporate Planning Manager, responsible for system planning, organization studies and Electricity Rate Studies. In 1987 I took an early retirement from KPLC.

Since leaving Kenya Power, I was General Manager of a Utility in Dominica (West Indies), under a Commonwealth Secretariat assignment, for about 5 years. Between 1998 and2004, I was appointed Technical Adviser to Kenya’s Ministry of Energy, under a World Bank funded project, to restructure the entire Power Sector, supervise the preparation of the Least-Cost Power Development Plans, and implement the new rate structure, both for bulk and retail tariff, to finance various generation and T&D projects in KenGen and KPLC.

In 2008 I was appointed Chairman of Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), for a 4 year term, to provide leadership in the technical and financial regulation of the entire Energy Sector, embracing power, petroleum and renewable energy. I completed my term in 2011. Currently I am involved in the development of various renewable energy projects in Kenya on a part-time basis, mainly in an advisory capacity.

2. Any specific project updates/success stories that you can share?

I can take some credit for being the pioneer in geothermal resource development in Kenya, as a result of which the country can take pride to be number one in whole of Africa for the generation of electricity from this resource. My second biggest achievement perhaps would be to introduce basic rules that govern the preparation of a good ‘Least Cost Power Development Plan’ (LCPDP), on a regular basis. And lastly, I can lay some claim in introducing the ‘fuel cost adjustment formula’ in the electricity tariff, without which Kenya Power would have either gone bankrupt in a very dry hydrological cycle, or consumers of electricity would have suffered massive load shedding during this period, as has happened with some of our neighboring countries.

During my term as Chairman of ERC, we also introduced a similar cost adjustment formula in the Petroleum Sector, such that pump prices are adjusted automatically every month on a particular day, depending on the average tender prices of the petroleum products imported in the previous month. This has proved to be a very effective tool when international prices rise or decline sharply, as has happened recently in the world market.

3. What in your view are the main challenges currently to the energy industry in Africa?

All countries in Africa suffer from (a) inadequate generation capacity, (b) unreliable and poor quality of supply, and (c) high cost of electricity, in various degrees of magnitude. Our short-coming is that we do not analyze the root cause of our problems, and do not learn from our past mistakes, thus resorting to quick-fix arrangements, whenever we are hit with a crisis. And more often than not we either resort to power rationing to meet the demand, or install an emergency plant on a long-term basis, or introduce State subsidies to keep the electricity tariff low, all of which are economically expensive and counter-productive.

4. You are part of the conference programme at this year’s African Utility Week in May, what will be your message?
I will be reading a short paper in the forthcoming African Utility Week conference in Cape Town on “Basic Principles on Least Cost Generation Planning and Regional Interconnection in Eastern Africa”. I will also talk briefly on electricity tariff in Kenya and share my views on some of the misplaced beliefs on cost of electricity to an average domestic or industrial consumer.

5. What are you most looking forward to at African Utility Week?

At the Conference, I look forward to meeting some of the key figures in the Power Industry in Africa, and share their experiences in their own countries.