Exclusive interview with Mr Hindpal S. Jabbal, former chairman Energy Regulatory Commission, Kenya. Jabbal is moderating a session on “Building collaboration between East African nations via transmission interconnectors” at the upcoming EAPIC in Nairobi in August.
Tell us more about your organisation 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, organisation 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 five years. Between 1998 and 2004, 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 four 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.
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 neighbouring 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.
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 analyse 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.
You are moderating a session on “Building collaboration between East African nations via transmission interconnectors” at the upcoming EAPIC in Nairobi in August. How important is this kind of collaboration for the region? What are you hoping will emerge from this discussion?
All the countries in East Africa should exchange power day and night, to meet their demand at the most economic cost without worrying too much about political ramifications. For example, Kenya and Tanzania are rich in geothermal, wind and natural gas. They can supply the entire base load of all the East African countries, generating at high load factors.
Uganda and Ethiopia, on the other hand, are endowed with excellent hydro resources. They can partly supply their own base load, and can also meet the variable and peak demand for the entire region, at variable load factors, consistent with their hydro output.
Rwanda and Burundi can continue to develop their own natural resources economically, but should not feel shy of importing power from their neighbouring countries.
In this way all the East African countries can take full advantage of the richness of their natural resources in the region for their power needs without having to rely on expensive petroleum products.
What are you most looking forward to at EAPIC?
As usual, I attend these conferences to exchange views and experiences, and learn from others.