Kenya Power wants copper trade ban to curb vandalism

Last year alone, Kenya exported copper waste and scrap worth Sh6.7 billion.

In Summary

•Kenya Power last year lost 365 transformers worth Sh328 million.

•Key export markets for these products are China and India, with a kilogramme of copper in the black market currently fetching up to Sh1,700.

Kenya Power engineers try to fix the transformers at Gamerock – Kiganjo sub-station which was vandalised by a ten gang man /Wambugu Kanyi
Kenya Power engineers try to fix the transformers at Gamerock – Kiganjo sub-station which was vandalised by a ten gang man /Wambugu Kanyi

Kenya Power wants the government to impose a total ban on copper exports to help tame infrastructure vandalism in the country.

This is in the wake of continued destruction and looting of power lines, transformers, poles and other electrical equipment, including attacks on power sub-stations, that has seen the utility firm lose hundreds of millions.

Actions by vandals have also negatively impacted power distribution in the country, with the vice not only rife in the energy sector but also in roads, rail, and other strategic national infrastructure.

According to Kenya Power managing director Joseph Siror, scrap metal dealers  should also declare their sources especially for copper and aluminium, with a continuous vetting of all those engaged in the scrap metal trade.

These include main scrap metal dealers, smelters, and exporters.

“There should also be joint inspections of business premises to ensure compliance with the law and filing of returns by dealers as per the Scrap Metal Act and Scrap Metal regulations,” Siror said.

He spoke in Nairobi on Wednesday at a forum with scrap dealers, where there was a call for a robust regulatory framework in the scrap metal trade to help weed out rogue ttaders, who are direct beneficiaries of vandalism.

Last year Kenya exported copper waste and scrap worth Sh6.7 billion, yet it does not produce the same. During the year, Kenya Power lost 365 transformers worth Sh328 million.

“In 2024, we have so far had 78 transformers vandalised, worth Sh78 million. The loss constitutes only the cost of installing a new transformer,"said Siror.

He said if the cost of unserved energy, loss of business, and possibly lives, is computed , the losses run into billions of Kenya shillings which has a huge impact on on the economy

While the sector is regulated and overseen by the Scrap Metal Council, a state corporation domiciled in the State Department for Industry established by the Scrap Metal Council Act of 2015, a few unscrupulous dealers continue to target key installations.

Kenya Power head of security Paul Nyaga said hotspots for vandalism are Kiambu, Embu, Machakos, Kajiado, Muranga and some parts of Mombasa country mainly Changamwe and Miritini.

“There is ready market for copper and aluminum in the export markets which is encouraging the trend. We are however working on putting all measures in place to curb the acts,” Nyaga said.

Key export markets for the products are China and India, with a kilogramme of copper in the black market currently fetching up to Sh1,700.

Tanzania remains a key export route for scrap metal emanating from Kenya to the international markets.

There are currently about 811 licensed scrap dealers in the country with 26 of these dealing in exports. About 33 steel millers are also among those in the business of buying scrap metal.

In January 2022, President Uhuru Kenyatta banned the scrap metal trade and ordered police to arrest and press treason charges against individuals found vandalising national infrastructure projects.

This was after the Standard Gauge Railway infrastructure was vandalised.

The ban was put in place to allow the government to develop proper guidelines. and was lifted later in May. During the period, Kenya Power reported zero cases of vandalism.

“However, immediately after the moratorium was lifted, we saw a serious spike, with 76 transformers worth Sh68 million vandalised between May and December 2022. Adding the cost of vandalised copper windings, braces, meters, among others, the loss was even higher,” Siror said.

While he acknowledged the existence of high vandalism cases in the country, the Scrap Metal Council head of secretariat, David Rono, said the vice can be tamed with strict penalties being put in place to deal with culprits.

“If scrap metal business is done in the right way, it can be of significant benefit to the economy,” Rono said.

Measures in place to regulate the business, he noted, include certification by relevant authorities including the Council, National Environment Management Authority and certificate of good conduct from the DCI.

Dealers are also required to belong to associations, which file periodic reports with the Council.

Meanwhile, the Council has proposed an “end of life” for old motor vehicles in the country to boost the sector. These are units that are beyond repair, common in both urban and rural areas.

The call by Kenya Power comes amid the Energy Ministry's push to cut system losses to an average 20 per cent in the short-term and double energy efficiency.

Energy CS Davis Chirchir says these will help improve energy security, reduce the expenditure of foreign currency reserves on energy imports, lessen the strain on the national grid during peak time, bring down power bills and lower the costs associated with emissions.

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