Powering up their village, on their own

Monday June 6 2011

A power distribution box in Gwere-Luzira

A power distribution box in Gwere-Luzira village in Moyo District, (inset) a waterfall on Amoa stream/river in Moyo District. The community taps this renewable resource to generate 500 watts of electricty, which it uses to light up 5watt energy saver bulbs in at least 70 households. PHOTOS BY NELSON WESONGA 

By Nelson Wesonga

It is 9pm in Gwere-Luzira village, Moyo District. Even with the sprinkling of stars in the sky, darkness envelops the huts here. Until August last year, it was hard to find a household here, awake at such an hour because they retired early to bed so as to save some kerosene for the following day.

Fuel prices had just started to rise, which meant that the community, like 80 per cent of other Ugandans in the rural areas, had to dig deeper into their pockets to light their tadoobas (wick lamps). Most of Gwere-Luzira’s 300 villagers did what came naturally in such a situation; retired to bed by eight o’clock in the evening.

In 2009, others offered a more ambitious solution: use the nearby river to generate power to light up their huts with energy saving bulbs. Together, they formed an association (Lomgbwo Self-help Hydro Electricity Project) to look into the feasibility of the undertaking. Each “capable” man was tasked to contribute Shs20,000 whereas a woman was asked to get Shs10,000. Each also had to contribute a membership fee of Shs2, 000.

They raised Shs6m. But when they went to Kampala to buy a turbine and cables, they learnt that they needed Shs11m, which they could not muster.
So, in the meantime, they started by collecting stones from nearby hills and sand from the riverbed. Labour, both unskilled and semiskilled was available. They used part of the Shs6m to buy cement. Next, they constructed a 100 metre long, two-foot wide canal to funnel the water to their “power generation plant”.

The association then approached the Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Programme (Preep), which assists rural communities to implement micro hydro power schemes, for a helping hand. That is how it got a turbine and cables. Members built a simple iron-roofed, brick structure to house the turbine and did the necessary connections.

With the canal complete, they cracked a boulder to create an inlet for the water, which would turn the turbines to generate power. “We would gather firewood, place it on the boulder and then light the wood. Once the wood was burned, we would pour cold water over the boulder. This would lead to expansion and contraction, which, after two months, eventually cracked the boulder,” says Cyril Dracho, the Technical Advisor to the Project. And now, having invested just Shs17m, Gwere-Luzira village, though not connected to the national electricity grid, is relatively well lit at night.

Denis Lejoruku, a teacher at Metu Senior Secondary School says because of the lights, the pupils and students can now do some revision at night. “They can engage in afternoon activities like football and netball at school knowing that they will be able to do their homework at night,” says Mr Lejoruku.

Concy Odego, the LC 1 vice chairperson, says that now the villagers can visit each other and discuss village issues for hours. “We do not have to worry that hosting village meetings well into the evening will increase our kerosene expenses,” says Ms Odego.

Benedict William Itse, the Secretary of Lomgbwo Self-help Hydro Electricity Project, says that the community is slowly recouping it’s capital investment. “People come from the neighbouring Chechelog and Pamenywa villages to have their cell-phones charged here,” says Mr Itse. Lomgbwo earns Shs50,000 monthly from charging cell-phones.

Mr Dracho also says that the project earns monthly Shs100,000 from power tariffs.
“Each household pays Shs1,000 per month per bulb used. Monthly, we collect Shs0.1 million of which Shs25,000 is wages for three workers who maintain the plant and also charge the cell-phones,” says Mr Dracho. He says there are no cases of illegal connections “because this is a very small community where members know each other”. “All those who have not registered for connection are known,” he said. He adds that they have put in place measures to minimise cases of illegal connections. “Instead of Shs1,000, we would fine the culprit Shs5, 000 which is high by this community’s standards,” says Mr Dracho.

Mr Lejoruku says that when the turbine breaks down, it takes them time to fix. “There was a time when we did not have power for two weeks because the turbine needed greasing, and yet we did not have the type of grease needed,” he says. They had to wait until it was brought from Kampala, a month later!

Although the people are happy about this development, they want more. Sharon Iziku, a housewife, says though the project is good, it would be better if it could enable them power even television sets and bigger radios.

The community has bigger plans.
Mr Dracho says that once they have saved enough money, they would want to invest on a turbine that can generate 5kW. “With 5kW, the community members would even be able to use fridges to preserve the mangoes that go to waste,” he added.