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Eskom needs more water to produce more electricity

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

On March 2, Parliament’s Ad-hoc Committee on Energy accused Nokwanda Mngeni, the managing director of Eskom Uganda Ltd, the hydro-electricity generating company of contempt of parliament for withholding information and ordered her to be detained. The Ad-hoc committee is investigating subsidies government pays to private power generators and Mngeni had appeared before the committee to testify when she declined to give it some information. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to Mngeni about issues in electricity generation.

How would you assess your performance for the time you have spent from your concession of 20 years of electricity generation at Nalubale and Kiira dams?

ESKOM Uganda Ltd is currently the largest and cheapest generator of electricity in Uganda. We were incorporated in 2002 and awarded a concession to operate and maintain Nalubale and Kiira hydropower stations in Jinja for 20 years. The concession we signed expected us to invest 6.8 million dollars within the first 4 years of operation, a target which we surpassed. Nine years down the road we have invested 11 million dollars most of which has gone into the maintenance, modification and refurbishment of the current system.

We have managed to ensure a non-stop production of hydropower for the last eight years or so inspite of many challenges. We have the best engineers in Uganda trained here with a lot of support from the best engineers in the continent. This is one of our points of pride. We have put in a lot of effort in maintaining the infrastructure at Nalubaale and Kiira, which was for long known as Owen Falls Dam. Most of this infrastructure is over fifty years old and requires extra care and handling.

We have also managed to maintain high safety practices with our employees that earned us a 4-star award from the National Occupational Safety Association of South Africa. Generally ESKOM Uganda Ltd is proud of how far we have come and how much we have done in Uganda.

Why do we continue to have power outages?

ESKOM (U) Ltd is tasked to produce power according to the water it is allowed to release from River Nile. The Directorate for Water Development gives us instructions on how much cubic meters of water should be released and this determines the amount of electricity we can generate. (The directorate allows Eskom 800 cubic metres of water per second but Eskom says at least 1000 cc per second is better.) Even with these restrictions we are producing slightly over 50% of the electricity that Uganda is using currently.

However, even though we are providing the bulk of electricity, we are doing this at only 10% – 13% of the total cost of electricity in Uganda. By this I mean that when Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd is handing over the cheques, we get only between 10% – 13% of what they payout.

If we are allowed less water then that means less power will be sent to the power grid and vice versa.

Why is there inadequate power generation?

Like I have told you the amount of water we are allowed to release by the Directorate for Water Development determines how much power we generate because our turbines rely on water flow to run. Our current average production of hydroelectric energy stands at 174MW. However we generate up to 203 MW during the day. Much as we have the capacity to generate 380MW, there are certain challenges that affect this capacity. Another challenge we face is equipment. The plant is 50 years old and still running the same turbines. We have managed to install modern components to the system over the years but the larger portion of the infrastructure is old and obsolescence is setting in.

We are continuing to invest more money in new equipment so that we can minimize this challenge. This has to be done in consultation with Uganda Electricity Generation Company (UEGCL), the asset owner and the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA).

What are you doing as Eskom to increase power generation?

As ESKOM we can only hope that the Directorate for Water Development allows us to release more water so that we get to produce to the maximum of 380MW. We, as an individual company cannot run the show when it comes to how much we should produce. We follow the license we are given on the water to use, and only an increase in the amount of water we are allowed to use will increase the power we produce. Currently because of the water restriction there is idle capacity.

What should Uganda do to increase electricity generation that would effectively end power load-shedding?

The solution lies in completing other sources of power around the country. ESKOM Uganda Ltd alone cannot fully satisfy the daily power requirements in Uganda; this is why we appreciate the other sources of power like the thermal energy and mini hydro plants. The move to have other power projects like Karuma dam completed is the right way to go. The completion of Bujagali power dam will also be of great help. Other sources of energy like biogas and solar should be encouraged to bridge the gap especially for domestic consumption.

What do you think of the parliament of Uganda following your brief standoff with the Energy Committee?

ESKOM Uganda Ltd respects the parliament of Uganda and all its members. This means that we were honored to be witnesses of the Ad hoc Committee on Energy. Issues that arose were fundamental like the sale of ESKOM Enterprises shares in UMEME. What we attempted to explain to the committee is that ESKOM Enterprise (separate legal entity) not ESKOM Uganda Ltd owned shares in UMEME. In that case ESKOM Uganda Ltd has no powers to speak for the shareholder, ESKOM Enterprises, on this issue since we were not party to the transactions being made.

In addition we were requested to clarify why there is no 66KV substation at the Lugogo substation. Our mandate as Eskom Uganda Ltd is to operate and maintain Nalubaale and Kiira power stations and hence our responsibility stops at the substation where we delivery power to the bus bar. Uganda Electricity Transmission Ltd (UETCL) then takes responsibility of transmitting that power to the different locations. All we do is generate the power then UETCL controls the transmission. These were some of the issues that led to some friction at some point. Later Eskom Enterprises passed over the information on the sale and purchase agreement of UMEME transaction.

ESKOM Uganda Ltd gave the committee documented explanation on the state of the 66KV line plus other information that was needed.

What impact would the above standoff have on foreign investor-relations with Uganda?

I wouldn’t call it a standoff. It was just a committee doing its job of investigation and us giving them all the information they needed. I don’t think it would go into affecting the foreign investor relations with Uganda. If you look at the composition of ESKOM Uganda Ltd we are fully Ugandan. Out of the 100 employees we have only one non-Ugandan and that is me, Nokwanda, the Managing Director. When we set shop here we did it with service delivery and not nationality in mind. That is why we have Uganda’s hydropower generation being run by the brains and expertise of Ugandans. That is exactly what we are doing and so we don’t consider ourselves as foreign. We are truly Ugandan in our composition, in our operation and in our service delivery.

Any other information you would like to share?

I just want to thank Ugandans for having faith in us and giving us the morale to keep on serving them. You know as a generator not in the limelight but it is so encouraging when we get to be thanked for the work we are doing. So far we have done projects like building a vocational centre that houses 200 war affected women in Gulu. We continue supporting fishermen to enhance their safety as they operate on the river Nile and also have projects geared towards sports. This year we have lined up projects that will directly touch the health of especially HIV awareness for general public. We plan to continue being a company that not only generates power but appreciates the livelihood of the community as well.

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