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Hope as Isimba dam nears completion

Two units set to go live within three months

Nairobi, Kenya |ISAAC KHISA | There lies a stretch of land in Isimba village on the Victoria Nile in Kayunga District,  44km downstream of the 250 MW Bujagali Hydroelectric Power Station where dust has never settled.

In the past five years, hundreds ofworkers have been crushing rocks, laying concretes and embankments across the Africa’s longest river –the Nile.

It is this site that the Isimba Hydropower Dam, the third largest electricity plant and one of the country’s largest projects is taking shape.

Two of its four turbines, commonly referred to as units, each with a generation capacity of 45.75MW, are expected to go live in the next three months as construction works now stands at 95% completion.

The government is pinning its growth on the new dam and the 600MW further downstream of the river to boost the country’s economic growth agenda.

“This economy hinges on electricity. Without it, we cannot have economic development,” said Harrison Mutikanga, the Chief Executive Officer of the state-owned Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited, mandated to oversee dam constructions and electricity generation.

“This project is therefore very critical for government…it will be used to power factories, homes, schools and the  planned  standard gauge railway.”

But the implementation of this project has not been that rosy. It has faced various bottlenecks including resettlement,shoddy work by contractors and strict rules from donors such as the World Bank.

In June this year, the commission of inquiry into land matters led by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire directed the Ministry of Finance to halt the payment of Shs600bn as compensation to claimants of a rock underneath the Isimba power dam construction site.

Also, the government has been criticised for what is said to be over-borrowing to fund the huge infrastructure projects including Isimba Dam where China Import and Export Bank is providing 85% of the US$567.7million (Approx.Shs2.1trillion) construction costs.

Since 2013, the government has injected huge resources in massive infrastructure projects including dams, roads, airports, railway and roads.

But the growth in the economy has been subdued to an average of below 5% over the past few years as opposed to higher levels of 6-8% in the early 2000s.

This has been partly blamed on the constant power outages, inaccessibility in some areas especially in the rural, high electricity tariffs and high interest rates.

Mutikanga said the sale of electricity to the national grid will be priced at US$5cents compared with the current over US$8cents offered by Bujagali hydropower project.

The Isimba hydropower plant is expected to boost the electricity generation with 183MW, pushing the country’s electricity generation to 1,133MW.

This is expected to further increase to 1,733MW when the 600MW Karumadam comes onboard in July next year.

President Yoweri Museveni recently assured investors and the business community that the high electricity tariffs will soon go down.

“The electricity costs; you don’t have to worry about that because we expect it to go down after completion of the many dams we are constructing,” Museveni said while commissioning the new Simba cement factory in Tororo District last month.

Features of Isimba dam

The Isimba hydropower dam covers a distance of 1.2kilometresand it is expected to hold 1.7million cubic metres of water that will always flow only through the power generation facility known as the Power House.

It is in this Power House – a gigantic five-storeyed-likeerection bay structure – that the four turbines (units) will be fixed to generate electricity.  So far, two units have been fixed.

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