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Safeguarding the rights of energy and petroleum products consumers is good for the economy

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By Anne Kiprotich

Kenya is experiencing an energy revolution, with 9.5 million Kenyans now connected to electricity. A further 5,000 public schools, public institutions, private hospitality establishments and hundreds of homes are also on course to acquire LPG reticulation kits thereby reducing their reliance on polluting fuel. 

Even though in its nascent stages, electric mobility has experienced an upsurge with 2,694 new units registered between July and December 2023, bringing the total electric buses, trucks, motorcycles, salon cars and bikes to 3,753. Kenya is also experimenting with hydrogen energy with six firms registered in the past year to explore the green energy product for scaling across Kenya.

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According to the latest 2023/2024 Bi-annual Energy and Petroleum statistics report, significant developments have been made with renewable energy sources holding an 84.93 percent of the total energy generation mix.

While the numbers are impressive, it is important that consumer rights are protected as we aim to fulfil the commitment of a 100 percent clean energy transition by 2030. Embracing a rights-based strategy, which ensures safety, access to quality goods and services, and fair compensation for losses or injuries, is important. It is crucial for advancing consumer protection within the energy and petroleum sectors, both in policy formulation and implementation phases, proactively.

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Firstly, while access is key to promoting the uptake of energy products, safety and quality assurances must guide all activities by private dealers to ensure that no harmful product is sold. To achieve this, it is incumbent on the consumers to purchase products from licensed vendors only. Licensing protects consumers by ensuring that safety standards are adhered to. 

Secondly, Kenya being a liberalised economy, regulations exist to protect customers from exploitation and exposure to unfair business practices. The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority’s (EPRA) mandate of undertaking economic and technical regulation also includes determining maximum pump prices for petroleum products, released on the 14th of every month. This is in addition to reviewing electricity tariffs and determining pass-through costs cushions consumers from arbitrary pricing and exploitation. 

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The recently gazetted Draft Energy (Electricity Market, Bulk Supply and Open Access) Regulations 2024 are under ongoing public participation across the Country. They aim to promote fair competition by allowing investors to generate, transmit, distribute and sell electricity to retail consumers. They will also establish a transparent and efficient electricity market for reliable bulk supply while holding licensees accountable for the services they offer to consumers.

To ensure that safety standards are adhered to when purchasing an LPG gas cylinder, a consumer should check its weight and confirm that the seal is not tampered with to avoid leakages that could lead to explosions. Details of the weight are clearly labelled on the gas cylinder to safeguard the consumers from being exploited concerning quality and measurement. A cylinder ought to be requalified or revalidated within eight years of use. 

Thirdly, when installing electrical works such as wiring, consumers are expected to engage the services of a licensed electrician to offer electrical/solar photovoltaic installation works. The objective of regulating the electrical contractors, electricians and solar photovoltaic workers is to protect the consumer from electrocution and dangerous accidents. 

Consumers’ right to protection from consuming sub-standard petroleum and LPG products requires continuous LPG compliance inspections and fuel marking monitoring programmes, which are done through multi stakeholder collaboration. Such programmes assess compliance with regulatory requirements, operational safety standards and risk management. For instance, monitoring in partnership with local country and law enforcement officials curbs illegal refilling of unauthorised LPG brands while fuel marking ensures the quality and safety of fuel for local and export markets. Fuel marking uses a unique identifier in the form of a bio-chemical liquid to detect the presence of adulterants or export-bound products in the domestic market.

Consumers of energy and petroleum products cannot fully enjoy these inalienable rights without an effective complaints and dispute-handling mechanism. They have the responsibility to ensure that their rights are met by reporting any malpractices and non-conformities to EPRA, whose mandate is to ensure that consumers, investors and stakeholders are protected from unfair practices. 

To promote consumer proactiveness, EPRA has been carrying out public education and advocacy to augment the aforementioned consumer protection efforts while promoting responsible and informed consumer behaviour and compliance with the laws and regulations governing the sector. Continuous engagement, consultation and empowerment of the consumers within the energy and petroleum sub-sectors effectively contribute to informed consumer choices. 

Consumers and sector players must be at the forefront of championing consumer rights through proactive and preventive approaches. The regulator then investigates complaints, accidents and incidents to deter non-compliance and protect the consumers within the sector. As we ponder about protecting consumers and balancing stakeholder interests, it should not be lost on us that prevention is better than cure! 

Ms. Anne Kiprotich is the Deputy Director of Public Education and Advocacy at the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) and a Public Sector Governance Educationist.  

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