Monday, February 13, 2012


Last week Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi witnessed the first turbine at the Bujagali dam generate its first 50 MW for the grid.

This is arguably the most anticipated 50 MW in the history of power generation. Previous dates for its appearance last year fell by the wayside as technical considerations conspired to delay its arrival. In the meantime we suffered the worst loadshedding in five years.

The Bujagali dam project has suffered a tortuous route to realization navigating through a minefield of environmentalist do-gooders, opportunistic law makers, bureaucratic delays and donor ambivalence before the first unit of power could be generated.

For a relative small dam of 250 MW it is scandal that it has taken almost taken 20 years to come to commissioning.

It is hard to determine the loss to the economy of these delays but it would not be unrealistic to stay it must ruin in the billions of dollars.

The most telling sign is that, judging by our power load curve, we use more power at night to watch TV, security lighting and boiling tea than we do for industry. What heavy industrialist in his right mind would set up shop here when our power situation is so inadequate? So our wealth creating and therefor job creating potential is capped and yet we have been growing at more than an annualized five percent for the last fifteen years. It boggles the mind to think where would be as a country if only we had enough power all this time.

Contrary to what has been reported the dam is on schedule to be completed on time – the contractor’s deadline is June this year and with the phasing in of the remaining four turbines over the next few months, we will see a total elimination by Christmas of loadshedding because of low power generation.

Experts project that this happy situation may continue for at least another year or two before we start suffering loadshedding again.

For the time being expect that normal loadshedding – power off every other day, should continue until the second turbine comes on line.

Expect that the last diesel plant we have at Mutundwe will be decommissioned soon so that Bujagali’s power can take its place. Government is shelling out almost $10m a month to keep the Mutundwe plant running money we can least afford at this time.

Energy drives economies. No energy, no growth. Energy is needed to keep us from regressing into lower levels of development and chaos.

We should determine as a country that load shedding should never happen again. Thankfully the process for starting on the Karuma dam has begun, with construction of the 600MW dam expected to kick off by June. The dam should be commissioned by the end of this decade.

In the meantime we can expect small hydro–power plants of up to 20 MW to be up and running.

Karuma is going to be a test case of the whether the government using internally generated funds, can build the dam. It helps that oil will be coming into production within a year or two and those resources are already earmarked for among other infrastructure needs power generation.

The beauty of using our own funds to build the dams, we will not have financial backers making us jump through hoops.

During AES’ doomed attempt to build the Bujagali dam donors, including the World Bank, had then energy minister Syda Bumba scurrying around the region to solicit pledges from our neighbours that they will buy our power. Never mind that in Uganda electricity coverage was barely five percent of the population at the time.

It is estimated that Karuma dam will cost $2.2b – a figure that includes a several hundred kilometer transmission line.

On the other hand one wonders whether it’s a good idea for government to involved in trying to build a dam, given its officials propensity to dip their fingers in the till at every turn.

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