Bujagali to be Kick–Started But Big Problems Persist

From The Sunrise Newspaper
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Available in pdf format 

After a series of setbacks, it is anticipated the construction of the Bujagali hydro power station will, in spite of technical advice against the project, move ahead in early 2006. The project could be commissioned in 2009.

The government has since the inception of the project been warned by both local and international bodies of the environmental dangers associated with the project but it seems grimly determined to press ahead with it. The Sunrise’s Bwire Eric delves in recent developments in the country’s power industry.

Energy situation in Uganda

The Owen Falls power station (the only one in the country) with an installation capacity of 150 MW was by 1986 producing 60 MW. The power plant was, however upgraded to 180 MW in the late 1980s.

As a result of rapid economic growth (through industrialization), the demand for electricity has increased from 200 MW in 1994 to 350 MW in 2004. Despite commissioning of 120 MW of additional capacity at the Kiira Hydropower station, load shedding of 75 MW is currently being implanted on a Rota basis.

The current drop in the water level, which has resulted in additional load shedding of 45 MW, has exacerbated the situation. According to the Uganda Manufactures Association (UMA), this scenario has cut industrial production by 30% hence the high cost of production and the eventual loss of jobs. Load shedding, to say nothing of the recent increase in power charges, is apparently a major disincentive to investors now shifting investment to neighbouring countries.

At a recent Presidential Investors Round Table (PIRT), a think–tank that brings together local investors and representatives of the world’s leading multinationals, the issue of erratic power supply was raised and the government was urged to employ stop–gap measures for the time being as a permanent solution to the problem is sought.

Problems with Kiira dam project

The Kiira extension from Owen Falls was expected to add 200 MW when completed. According to reknown hydraulic engineer Hilary Oboloker Onek, the dam currently should have added 120 MW with the three installed turbines, to generate a total 300 MW, but so far adds only about 40 MW. The current total output at the dam is only 215 MW due to hydraulic bottlenecks.

Bujagali: How many more hurdles?

The updated Environment Impact Statement for Bujagali hydropower project is an abridged form of the former AES’s EIS, which failed to address among others the following issues. According to submissions by local district leaders of Jinja, the Bujagali based tourism fetches Shs.50m per month or Shs600m per year. There is no strategy to ensure that this revenue will not be lost by Jinja district once Bujagali is built. The opportunity cost of tourism is not addressed neither is the issue of compensation of the district and the tour operators as well as the local people who have depended on Bujagali based tourism.

Located about six kilometers away from Nalubali and Kiira, Bujagali depends on the water released from the two installations and according to Onek, the short distance between Bujagali and Nalubale means that the two installations share the same structural risks. There is already reported cracking in the powerhouse, which could also be happening in the dam structure. Should Nalubale structurally fall Bujagali will absorb the load and could be washed down, according to the engineer.

The over–release upstream at Nalubale and Kiira poses problems for Bujagali as well, should the lave levels continue to drop, discharge from the lake will decrease and power generation will drop with it. Already, the forced over–release of Nile flow to generate power has contributed to a two–meter drop in the lake level, the lowest since the dam reservoir was filled. This happened at the time of Kiira dam extension. Recently Energy minister Syda Bbumba attributed the drop to prolonged drought, a submission the engineer dismisses.

He says: "Rainfall pattern has been quite stable for during the last 42 years. There has not been a single year of absolute drought. The general temperature rise attributed to reduced forest cover and swamps has no significant effect on the amount of rainfall. Nether is the apparent dry condition during May–September 2004 enough to cause a drastic drop in lake levels."

Cost of the dam

The figure of the coast of the dam continues to fluctuate so much that it is difficult to determine the actual cost. Originally, the figure was US$430m, then $550m and then $580m. The Prayas report of 2002 noted that the Bujagali dam had been over priced by twice as much.

Electricity affordability

There is still over emphasis on the accessibility to the national grid and virtually no emphasis on the affordability of the electricity by the vast majority of Ugandans most of whom are impoverished. Recently there has been an increase in the price of electricity in spite of the fact that a 50MW thermal electricity generating plant at Lugogo is due to start by the end of April.

Cultural and spiritual issues

The updated EIS still grosses over cultural and spiritual issues over which concern has been raised by some 100 clans of Busoga. Although it is claimed that the cultural and spiritual issues have been settled, there is evidence that this is far from the truth.

In spite of the above outstanding issues, which among other reasons led to the withdrawal of AES from furthering the project, the government was by last week reviewing bids for the dam project. At one of the workshops organized by the National Association of Professional Environmentalist to discuss the proposed Bujagali project concerns, participants raised two important issues:

First, the government, Acres International and the World Bank should before going ahead with the Bujagali project accept full responsibility of what happened at Kiira dam.

Second, that alternative site preferably Karuma with hydropower potential of 150 MW, Murchison 420 MW, Kalagal 300 MW and Ayago 600 MW should be considered.