Electricity firms face staffing challenges

Tuesday September 8 2015

Engineers fix electricity lines. UETCL expects

Engineers fix electricity lines. UETCL expects the length of power lines to increase to 2,242 kilometres by 2016. File photo  

By Nelson Wesonga

Many electricity projects that have been under construction are lined up for commissioning from next year, rising concerns about adequacy of the human resources needed to operate and maintain them.
Among the projects to be commissioned will be mini hydroelectric plants, which altogether will add 120 megawatts (MW) to the national grid.
Also, the first unit of Isimba Hydro Power Plant will be on by the end of 2016.

Because of these, the Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL), which manages the Nalubaale and Kiira power plants among others, says there is need to train more Ugandans to operate and maintain energy infrastructure.
Relatedly, UETCL, the sole buyer of electricity from generation companies, says it will need more staff for the transmission line.
The length of Uganda’s electricity transmission line is projected to increase to 2,242 kilometres, from 1,616 kilometres today, by the end of 2016.
Some of the lines that will be complete are the Isimba Interconnection line to evacuate power from the Isimba HPP, Tororo–Opuyo–Lira, Bulambuli–Kachumbala and the Nkenda–Fort Portal–Hoima interconnection.

To improve the reliability of supply, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) will also add 20 electrical substations to the 18, it currently has.
“An increase in the number of completed projects which UETCL has to operate and maintain means need for staff,” says UETCL’s Revenue Requirements and Tariff Application report for 2016.
“The setting up of a regional control centre in western Uganda will require full time human resources.The total number of staff across the company is to be increased from 301 to over 365 staff by the end of 2016,” says the report.
According to UETCL, this will increase its corporate staff costs from Shs23b (2015) to Shs25b (2016).
UETCL is the sole buyer of electricity from the generation companies, which it then sells to distribution companies.
But Simon D’Ujanga, the state minister for Energy, says there is no need for panic as “every year we recruit many young engineers who can feel the void if any.”
In July, UEGCL partnered with Hangzhou Regional Centre for Small Hydro Power, a Chinese company, to train more eligible Ugandans to operate and maintain hydropower plants.

UEGCL’s chief executive officer, Harrison Mutikanga, said then the exponential growth in renewable energy generation calls for a pool of experts to manage the projects.
According to the 2013/14 ministry of Energy sector performance report, one of the challenges facing the construction of Karuma HPP is inadequate staff.
“UEGCL staff is thin and irregular on ground due to financial constraints. This could compromise the quality of supervision and monitoring,” the report says.
The distribution company though says it has sufficient human resource for the distribution network.
“We have more than enough talent to handle all its engineering and technical activities,” says Stephen Ilungole, the Umeme media manager.
“We have been running a graduate trainee programme through which 10 fresh but talented graduates from top universities’ engineering departments are brought on board…,” he says, highlighting that the programme has been running since 2007.

The strategy is to create a pool of talent to ensure operations continue even in the event of some senior engineers leaving the company.
Ilungole says, “Most of our senior engineering and other technical staff are a result of this programme”.
Initially, he says, the trainees would undergo two–year training. This has since been increased to three years “to cater for the dynamic customer needs’.

According to Vision 2040, Uganda’s development framework for the next 25 years, the government plans to increase Uganda’s electricity generation from 852MW today to 41, 738MW.
Five thousand (5,000) MW will be from solar sources, 4,500MW from hydro, 1,500MW (geothermal), 1, 700MW (biomass), 800MW (peat), 4,300MW (thermal) and 45, 000MW from nuclear sources.

The document says this seeks to reduce the energy deficit as government emphasises development of nuclear power by using the uranium deposits in the country.
This, according to D’Ujanga, has been heightened by sending more Ugandans abroad for training in nuclear energy.
Apart from availing power for household use Uganda needs cheap electricity to stimulate its industrial and service sectors.
Cheap power would considerably lower industrial costs, and thus, many factories would have no problem employing more people.

What has been recommended

According to the Revenue Requirements and Tariff Application report for 2016, the strategic nature of UETCL in the energy sector requires that it attracts the most competent staff and retain them for sustained service delivery.
However, the rapid growth in the energy sector could present challenges that could create an artificial shortage of staff with experience.
Thus recommendations have been done pointing to how government should prepare for the challenges ahead including the continuous existence and sustained training to close any gap.

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