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Uganda’s long awaited promise of electricity

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Transformer at a power distribution centre at Katwe on Entebbe Road. INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA Owen Falls Dam was constructed and commissioned by the colonial and Uganda administration between 1954  and 1969. At the time, it was clear that the energy future of the country was very bright. The national demand was low, no wonder the administration then had the imperative to even export some of the electricity to Kenya. Renamed Nalubale Dam by president Museveni in 2002 to distinguish it from the extension called Kiira, it was then proposed that power from this dam would serve only central and eastern Uganda.  The newspaper of the time, Uganda Argus of May 2, 1955 quotes the first Chairman of the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) Sir Charles Westlake as saying “… furthest west Owen Falls power will not go beyond Masaka. Anything beyond that would have to come from local hydro electric sources.” For the north, Westlake said, power would be produced from the numerous potential sources in the region.  Interestingly, now in the sixth decade, the ‘numerous potential sources’ are yet to start to make an impact anywhere in the countryside, instead power supply is almost at a crisis level. Nulubale Dam was until 2002 (when Kiira Dam was commissioned just adjacent to it), the single supplier of electricity in the whole country. What went wrong?

 In 1997, the government of Uganda established the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), an institution charged with the responsibility to license and monitor participants in the power sector so that it is able to provide adequate and reliable energy in order to ensure sustainable social and economic development in the country and maximize interregional power exports. To this, the Electricity Act 1964 was repealed and a new one, the Electricity Act 1999 was enacted.  This was to ensure that ERA performs to the expectations of Ugandans. The question is, how far?

According to the Chief Executive Officer of the Electricity Regulatory Authority Eng. F.B. Sebbowa, ERA is on top of its objectives. Having come into existence 8 years ago, ERA he says has done a lot toward fulfilling its mandate. “Our roles were to license, set tariffs and supervise the energy sector companies in meeting their licence obligations. The achievement to date are that we have licensed all the successor companies to UEB (Uganda Electricity Board) i.e. Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited, Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited and Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited”.  Additionally eight totally new companies or projects have been licensed and are operational, supplying power in the country, says Sebbowa.

 He also adds that they have several power projects in the country that have been cleared to develop projects in the country.  Another six or so will begin supplying late this year 2009 or next year 2010.  Unfortunately, all these interventions have not alleviated the chronic power shortages in the country as demand has grown beyond supply.  Load-shedding has continued to be a menace in Uganda especially in the countryside where consumers can go without power for days. It is in the central business district – Kampala where power can be consistent for some days before one experiences an interruption.

 Originally, Nalubale Dam was designed to produce 150MW (upgraded to 180MW in 1998) and Kiira 200 MW of power. However, currently the total electricity production from the two dams and all the other existing small projects put together stands at 150 MW at most.   This is supplemented by 150MW of thermal and other small projects.  This, serving a population of 30+ million people leaves only 10% of Ugandans having access to electricity. Of these, only 5% use electric energy in the rural area where the bulk of the population is.

Sebbowa says that the construction of small dams in the countryside would be ideal for addressing the rural electrification challenges. This makes it easy because it is cheaper to transport and connect the localities. To this, the Government is promoting small electricity projects as part of the general renewable energy framework. In line with this, ERA is responsible for receiving, and processing applications for new investment; and issuing permits and licenses for generation, transmission, distributing and sale of electricity.

While there are some small power projects in operation and even under construction in the countryside, these projects cannot be a priority for government direct investment  now. Sebbowa says Bujagali project had to first get out of the way after which Karuma is the next priority plan. He argues that it is cheaper to invest in the larger projects since they are closer to the generators making interconnection process easier compared to small ones that would scatter around the country.

 Unfortunately, this means that the promised electricity supply to all Ugandans might remain a dream for sometime. This is because while President Museveni had said late in 2008 that the construction of Karuma project would start this year, Sebbowa confirms that that process is on but at the study and design level. This is the stage of doing the study, planning and procurement, which according to him normally takes longer than the actual process of construction. This means that before the completion of the priority power projects i.e. Bujagali, Karuma and Ayago north and south, the small projects (that would best serve the rural communities hence the bigger population) may not come soon unless private investment in them increases tremendously.  But what is important is that today, someone is coordinating the process.  Sebbowa states that through the new projects being constructed at Bugoye, Mpanga and Ishasha the assured power from these small projects is 35MW on its way in the next 12 months.  But this is a drop in the much needed additional power.

 ERA’s eight years of existence is a very short time given the achievements they have registered. Unfortunately for them, the ordinary person may never see it that way unless they start to feel its impact directly – enjoying uninterrupted supply of affordable electricity.

 

Transformer at a power distribution centre at Katwe on Entebbe Road. INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA 

 


Comments (19)Add Comment
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