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130 firms certified to provide services in energy sector

Minister Kitutu addressing journalists on the sidelines of the inaugural workshop for certified companies at Golf Course Hotel in Kampala on Feb1.4.

ERA CEO says they must up their game on standards, safety and human resource

Kampala, Uganda | JULIUS BUSINGE | At least 130 firms have been cleared to provide services in the energy sector following approval from the industry regulator, Electricity Regulatory Authority.

This means that the firms will now be contracted by other firms such as Umeme, Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited and Kalangala Infrastructure Services and others, to provide services like electricity installation, line extension and related services in the industrial sector.

In an interview with The Independent on Feb.14 on the sidelines of the inaugural workshop for the certified companies at Golf Course Hotel, ERA’s Chief Executive Officer Ziria Tibalwa Waako said the certified companies now have an enormous opportunity to make money owing to a growing appetite for clean energy.

“The certified companies are performing fairly (well) but we want them to perform excellently,” Tibalwa said, adding that a section of companies are failing to deliver work as per the required standards.

“That is the reason for this inaugural workshop. Electricity is a good servant but also a bad master,” she said.

Tibalwa said that certified companies are important because they are at the face of the industry.

She said a section of electricity consumers are also experiencing outages partly due to inadequacy of workmanship by a section of certified companies.

However, she said their work is improving over time though need to be made better as the government moves to connect more people on the national grid.

“I can’t say they are perfect,” she said, “they need to improve largely in areas of standards, safety of staff…so that the consumer is not inconvenienced.”

This development comes just a few months after the commissioning of the 183MW Isimba Hydropower Plant and Six other small hydropower plants.

The small power plants include 10 MW Bufulubi Solar Plant; 5.25 MW Sindila Hydropower Plant; 16.5 MW Siti II Hydropower Plant; 7.6 MW Kyambura Hydropower Plant; 5.9 MW Ndugutu Hydropower Plant and 42 MW Achwa Hydropower Plant.

To date, the country’s installed generation capacity stands at 1,252MW and is expected to grow further this year with the commissioning of the 600MW Karuma Hydropower Plant and other independent power generating plants.

On the transmission segment, the country has hit 3,222km from 730km during the period before the liberalisation of Uganda’s Electricity Supply Industry in early 2000s.

In addition, access to clean energy in Uganda is 50%, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, up from 10% in the period before sector liberalisation.

Tibalwa said that some of the companies being retooled have served in the sector from the period before liberalization when the industry was operated by the Uganda Electricity Board.

“They have participated in the construction of power plants, contributed to expansion of the grid through the construction of transmission and distribution lines and prepared electricity consumers’ premises for connection to the supply,” she said. This progress notwithstanding, Tibalwa said, there is need to expand the grid further in order to effectively evacuate the abundant power generated, grow demand, improve quality and reliability of supply and grow access to electricity in the country.

Big projects underway

The government is also implementing transmission projects for connection of industrial parks. The Parliament recently approved a loan of $178million from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to supply power to ten industrial parks.

In January this year, the Rural Electrification Agency launched the program for construction of power lines to 545 sub-counties countrywide that lack electricity supply. There is also a programme dubbed ‘Electricity Connection Policy’ launched in August 2018.

By the end of 2019, over 260,000 customers had been connected to electricity free of charge, through this program, according to ERA.

Sector challenges

Meanwhile, Tibalwa said the sector is currently facing a major challenge related to the quality of electricity poles being installed on the network. Whilst poles are expected to last 20 years, many rot away within five years.

Other challenges include poor workmanship, failure to adhere to construction standards and guidelines, use of substandard equipment among others.

Tibalwa said consultations with the relevant companies are ongoing for the development of Electric Pole Standards. The standards will also address the quality of cables, conductors, transformers and insulators to ensure that manufacturers’ name plate ratings for these equipment are verified. ERA is also working with Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to improve the efficiency of organization with regards to verifying the quality of meters.

Speaking at the same event, the newly appointed Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Mary Goretti Kitutu said efforts are underway to enhance the ministry’s capacity to monitor all works in the electricity sector.

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