Kenya Power row with school over high voltage lines near classroom gets nasty

Waso Secondary classroom

A Waso Secondary School classroom under a high voltage power line on December 5, 2022. The school is embroiled in a row with the power distributor over two high voltage power lines atop one of the classrooms. 

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu I Nation Media Group

A secondary school in Isiolo is embroiled in a tussle with Kenya Power over two high-voltage power lines over one of the classrooms with sources saying the case might soon end in court.

Waso Secondary is accusing the power distributor of illegally erecting the infrastructure without wayleave consent from the management and wants it to reroute the lines on grounds that it poses serious threats to hundreds of students in the school.

The lines pass above the school compound and its basketball field.

At the centre of the dispute is a contest on which between the classrooms and the power line that is part of the 33KV Wamba feeder that supplies one of the military installations in Isiolo and traverses Archers Post town to Wamba in Samburu came before the other.

The power utility insists that the classes beneath the line were built way after their infrastructure had been developed even though the company has not authoritatively revealed the year that was done.

While Kenya Power says it is against their practice to establish lines on top of buildings, structures and trees, the -year-old school says the company trespassed into the school during a December holiday and placed the infrastructure against the will of the administration.

The matter came to the fore a month ago after the local Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) office undertook an inspection of power installations and ordered the local Kenya Power office to rectify the school lines which were found to be causing danger.

On November 1, Epra Mt Kenya region manager Dickson Karani advised Isiolo’s Kenya Power manager Alex Wachira to have the lines rerouted for failing to observe line clearance distance and for posing danger to students as it “passed through a playfield”.

The office was to also rectify the last mile connection along Isiolo International Airport road where there was no single building.

Also noticed during the Epra inspection at the school was that the lines were hanging too low near the gate and within the basketball pitch which the local office days later rectified by introducing a span pole.

Waso Secondary

A power line that passes through Waso Secondary School compound. 

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu I Nation Media Group

The Kenya Power Mt Kenya region office would two days after the Epra communication write an infringement letter to the school and order the institution to bring down the building in 14 days.

“It has come to our attention that you have infringed on our 33KV power line by building a classroom under the line. The classroom, besides interfering with our operations and maintenance, also poses danger to humans and property,” the November 3 letter signed by Wayleave officer Erastus Ndambuki read in part.

The letter referenced KP1/6AB-2/INFRI-W5/EM/enm further indicated that to rectify the situation, the school should “remove the building from the way leave trace” to at least 5 metres away from the centre of the line.

Mr Ndambuki warned that failure to comply will leave Kenya Power with no option but to recover the electric power supply from the school and demolish the encroaching structure to ensure public safety and relocation of the lines away, costs that will be borne by the school.

In such an eventuality, the school would also be required to provide an alternative area (fresh wayleaves) for the repositioning of the line failure to which Kenya Power will take “appropriate legal action” against the school, the letter disclosed.

The school, eight days after it was served with the infringement notice, convened a Board of Management meeting and invited Kenya Power which sent one Gideon Nzioki and Jackline Mukiru to represent the manager.

Waso Secondary

Waso Secondary School's basketball pitch where a high voltage power line passes through. 

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu I Nation Media Group

The school board chair Mohammed Boru during the November 11 meeting attended by 12 people insisted the school existed before the power lines were constructed with the members saying the power company should not cost the school for the rerouting.

Three days later, the school wrote to the Isiolo Kenya Power office and asked the power company to reroute the lines immediately and shoulder the costs.

But Kenya Power would on December 1 issue another seven-days-notice to the school (lapsing last Thursday) asking it to comply or face legal proceedings after the school refused to apply for rerouting as had earlier advised.

“Any accident or incident occurring on the power line will solely be attributed to your interference,” Wayleaves office in charge of Mt Kenya region Isabell Mumbi Mwangi warned in the letter copied to Epra Director General and National Environment Management Authority counterpart.

With Waso Primary School, which donated part of the land to the secondary school about two decades ago, having been established 54 years ago, it is obvious that the power line was younger than the primary school.

The land where the two schools rest was donated by some of the area residents and at the time the school was being built, there was no power in the area according to residents.

“Power connection came way after we started the primary school. I may not remember the actual year when the Wamba feeder was set up but it was so many years after the primary was up and running,” one of the residents told Nation.

None of the Kenya Power officials we spoke to shared any consent between them and the school management allowing for the power lines to pass atop the compound.

The school Deputy Principal Adan Badasa on Monday insisted that the structure was older than the power line and maintained that the school will not pay for the rerouting.

“The power company has refused to bring down the lines that it set up without consulting the school while knowing that it posed danger to the learners,” Mr Badasa said.

Waso Secondary

Waso Secondary School in Isiolo. The school is embroiled in a row with the power distributor over two high voltage power lines atop one of the classrooms. 

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu I Nation Media Group

The school’s Parents Teachers Association Chair Abado Hussein said the school could not demolish a classroom because of a mistake made by Kenya Power and appealed to the government to intervene in the issue.

“Parents cannot bear the cost of rerouting while we know who erred in their work. We appeal to our local leaders to come to our aid,” he said.

County Parents Association boss Ismail Galma said they were worried about the safety of learners in the school due to the continued existence of the power lines.

“We will not allow the demolition of the classroom because parents will be forced to contribute to setting up another one,” Mr Galma maintained.

Electromagnetic radiation from high voltage transmission power lines increases cancer risks, reports indicate.

Surprisingly, none of the communications to the school by Kenya Power have been copied to the County Director of Education or the Ministry of Education.

Kenya Power Mt Kenya region Manager Phineas Marete insisted that the power lines were in place before the classes were built and maintained that the school must take full responsibility for allowing the construction to happen.

Mr Marete said the school’s power supply will be cut after the ongoing KCSE exams are completed for allegedly infringing the company’s right of way.

He revealed that the Isiolo office was already working on a quotation for the rerouting and assured that the terms will be reasonable.

“Five poles need to be rerouted. Items such as conductors and insulators will be reused with the school expected to bear the cost of other materials that will be used,” he told Nation, adding that the school must provide an alternative section of their land for the rerouting work.

Experts say rerouting for a 33KV power line would cost on average between Sh800,000 and Sh1 million.

Kenya Power Wednesday shared a quotation with the school requiring it to part with Sh1.2 million for the rerouting which is inclusive of Value Added Tax.

“Please pay this amount within 90 days from the date of this letter outside which we reserve our right to revise our terms as necessary,” a quotation by the County Kenya Power Business Development officer dated December 7 read in part.

“The quotation is subject to our being able to obtain the necessary way-leaves approval and consent for the proposed power supply route,” it added.

A source within the power utility revealed plans to sue the school over “failure to act” on infringement even as some of the local leaders were said to have forwarded the matter to the Ministry.

“I have been asked to prepare some documents over the issue because as things stand, only the courts will help resolve the stalemate,” an officer who did not want to be named revealed.

County Education Director James Nyaga did not respond to our calls when reached for a comment on the issue.

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