“An electricity pole along the road to Kitgum right before the Acwa Bridge caught fire in December last year. Another one shortly after came close to becoming ash, about 6 kilometres from Gulu town as you approach Kampala,” recounts Gulu chairman Martin Ojara Mapenduzi.
Pole burning is one of the causes of the constant power outages in Gulu town. The practice he says, usually takes place during the dry season as natives indulge in bush burning sometimes after a harvest.
However, one of the power distributors in Gulu, Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL) when called during an emergency to the burning timber, were not in office.
The chairman believes, UEDCL emergency response needs more effort to reinforce efficient operations. Gulu also characterised by its heavy infestation of swamps creates a challenge for power distributors to efficiently carry out maintenance of the poles.
Bomah hotel had over six outrages in just two hours. In all incidences, a stand by generator would go on and off to accommodate the power drifts.
However, power challenges are spread throughout the neighbourhood.
19 year-old Ibra Makene starts work at 8am and closes at 5pm to copy music from his computer to his customers.
He hopes to earn between Shs30,000- and 40,000 a day especially during the Christmas season.
But persistent power outages let him earn Shs15,000 only especially when they last half a day.
Impact on investors
For investors, that is an intolerable situation. Gulu, which mainly houses medium and small agro processing industries dealing in sunflower and oil processing, among others, has seen factories such as Ari close shop because of lack of competitiveness. About three to four companies have cut their losses even after undertaking feasibility studies to invest because of unreliable power.
“An investor intending to make plastic tanks came and was targeting Northern Uganda and South Sudan with over $10m [Shs37b]. After feasibility studies, they said their challenge was power supply,” he expounds.
The discussions come on the heels of a protest held by residents of Gulu District recently when they could not stand the power outages any longer.
Umeme, which serves Gulu through a line from Lira, arranged a stakeholder engagement last week where all the above issues were raised.
Additionally, there was a call for sensitisation of people about the energy sector with a breakdown of all the companies’ mandates by Mr Lyandro Komakech, the Member of Parliament (MP) Gulu Municipality.
Responding to the challenges, Umeme managing director Mr Selestino Babungi said that they are cognizant of power challenges and some solutions are being hatched.
“We need to step up our game to ensure there is no mismatch between power demand and supply. We have increased resource deployment in terms of technical staff in Lira and Gulu,” he revealed adding that standby emergency contractors have also been deployed.
Mr Babungi said government, has gazetted Shs30b for upgrading the lines to boost reliability of power supply in Gulu.
“Government committed Shs30b to upgrade and work on the line, the Lira feeder as well as those on the Kitgum line,” he affirms.
Achwa hydro power project 2, whose construction commenced in 2015 according to the contractors, is expected to be completed before Christmas. Whereas Gulu has a demand of 5 Megawatts, the dam has a generation capacity of 42 Megawatts.
However, Mr Abatneh Enyew, Electromechanical works manager ARPE limited, said the dam will be completed in December but transmission lines to evacuate the power have not yet to been constructed by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited.
However, in a telephone interview, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL), explained that the delay in establishment of the 133KV evacuation line is due to delays in procurement processes.
Ms Pamela Nalwanga, UETCL principal public relations manager, says in addition to acquiring land, they are still awaiting approval of the tenders by the financiers KfW.
“It is more about the tender documents because we have not yet hired a contractor because the financiers give us demands on the person we are supposed to hire. KfW has not yet approved,” she reveals.
She said that procurement of land for both the line and substation is also yet to be acquired.
Mr Babungi revealed that whereas it is not their mandate, Umeme will put up a 33Kilovotts line as a temporary solution to evacuate the power. The line is expected to come on board by December 2019.
He affirms that the on boarding of Achwa means power would be evacuated and distributed to Gulu and Kitgum as substitutes in case of instability from the Lira line.
Since energy cannot be destroyed, while the transmission line of 132KV is yet to come on board, the contractor reveals that a Power Purchase Agreement signed with UETCL stipulates that during the period of production in December when the dam is operational, Ugandans will have to pay for the energy that is being produced but not utilised.
Mr Enyew, however, declined to reveal how much Ugandans will pay citing confidentiality agreements.
Addressing concerns of the delay in construction of transmission lines, Komakech said they will probe the minister of Energy in Parliament to ensure government is accountable to its people.