Uganda’s flagship power project nears completion

Saturday June 16 2018

Uganda’s flagship power project nears completion

Progress. Part of the dam inlet at Karuma Hydropower Dam. At least 76 per cent of the work on the dam has been completed. Photos by Henry Lubega 

By Henry Lubega

It is almost four and half years since construction of the much talked about Karuma Hydropower Dam started.
With at least 56 months down the road, just over 76 per cent of the work has been completed. In eight months’ time the first two units of six units that make up the dam are to be commissioned.

The $1.7 billion project is funded by Exim Bank of China and the government to a tune of 85 and 15 per cent respectively.
Its construction was awarded to Sinohydro, a Chinese firm. The project is being supervised by Uganda Electricity Generating Company Limited (UEGCL) on behalf of the government of Uganda.

Later this year the first two units, each producing 100MW will be commissioned, with the other four following next year. UEGCL’s Albert Musoke Byaruhanga is the project manager at Karuma.
“The project commenced on December 15, 2013. As of end of March this year we have managed to accomplish up to76 per cent of the works,” he says.
The remaining 24 per cent of the works, according to Byaruhanga is the completion of phase two which is the structural work and starting phase three which is the equipment delivery, installation and testing.

By the time of completion, the project’s total cost will be $1.7 billion. However this is not only for work at Karuma alone. The cost is in two components; one is the hydropower plant and the other is the interconnection project.
“The hydropower plant under the responsibility of UEGCL will cost approximately $1.4 billion while the Karuma interconnection project under the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company will take up the balance of $300m, making the total of $1.7 billion.

Under the interconnection project, three new substations will be constructed and one upgraded and three high voltage lines. We will have a substation in Karuma with a line going to Kawanda. Others are Karuma-Olwiyo along the Pakwach Road and the Karuma-Lira line. At Karuma, Kawanda and Olwiyo we are constructing new substations. The one in Lira is going to be upgraded,” explains Byaruhanga.

Project impact
To the community near the project some impact has been immediate. This has been both positive and negative.
“Karuma has been transformed from a sleepy trading centre to a vibrant town,” says UEGCL’s Corporate Affairs Manager Simon Peter Kasyate.
There has been some economic transformation in the area.

“A grass thatched house previously fetching Shs10,000 monthly rent is now costing up to Shs50,000. There has been a general growth of businesses in Karuma town as a result of the influx of project labourers,” Mr Kasyate says.

Mr Byaruhanga says: “The project has been a big market for the local produce. Feeding these people has not been an easy task. The food comes from within the area. There has been support to the health centres and schools in the community.”

As a national project, the impact will be felt when the power it generates pushes the cost of electricity down.
Part of its impact is that when the first two units are commissioned there will be an increased amount of electricity on the market. Since it is a public funded project, Karuma will have some of the lowest tariffs next to Nalubale-Kiira. However, Mr Kasyate says the impact on low tariff may not be felt immediately, even when at full capacity.

“The downward shift in the tariff may not be immediate. In the first 10 years Karuma will be selling its power at 4.9 cents of a dollar per unit. In the next 15 years it will be lowered down to 2 cents of a dollar. After that it will go to one cent. As the loan obligations are met the rates will go down,” says Mr Kasyate.

The project manager says once the loan obligations have been met the end user of electricity will be paying the bare minimum.
“Once the loan is paid off, and the project has made returns on the investment, and there are no other interventions, then Ugandans will be able to enjoy very cheap electricity. What would be needed is to cover the operation and administrative costs of the project,” Mr Byaruhanga says.

Of the total workforce of 6,000 employees 5,300 are Ugandans. “People from the greater Bunyoro Kitara, Lango, Acholi sub-regions and other parts of Uganda have been employed at the project. There has been skills development. People who joined as casual labourers have gained specialised skills in different fields,” Mr Byaruhanga explains.
However, the project has exerted pressure on the available social services. The increase in population has led to strain on the services available in the community.

“There are two main course of action being taken. The contractor as an organisation has made some interventions within the community assisting schools, churches, organised groups, providing them with things like building materials, initiatives to assist the town board on how to manage waste, and they have also constructed an open air market in Karuma town where traders can go about their business in a clean safe and better environment,” Mr Byaruhanga says.

The government, on the other hand is providing an alternative livelihood to locals whose livelihood were disrupted by the project.
“Under this programme, we look at livelihood restoration. People who lost their livelihood as a result of the project are helped to find another alternative source of income,” he says.
As part of corporate social responsibility Synohydro is awaiting approval from the ministries of Health and Education respectively to construct military and civilian hospitals plus a primary school.

As the government agency responsible for the generation of electricity in the country, UEGCL has been on the ground from the inception of the project.
Mr Byaruhanga says a UEGCL team of 25 people is already on the site, adding that it will form part of the core operations and maintenance team.
“The team has been following the progression of the power plant. They have also been to Zambia’s Kafue Goge hydropower training centre, and also went to China for a month and studied a hydropower plant similar to Karuma to learn its day-to-day running. They also got training from General Electric (GE) the generator manufacturers in China, to troubleshoot.”

More training is expected for the Ugandan technicians and engineers during the installation and the trial runs of the dam before it is handed over. There will also be hands-on training during the installation and the trial runs before the handover.
For close supervision, permanent resident camp accommodating up to 120 people is to be constructed at the site.
“Besides residential units, it will have a visitor’s centre, health and recreational facilities, an administrative block, a laboratory, and other facilities,” Mr Byaruhanga says.

There are nine radial gates which control the water. They are to be automatic, in that they close once the water is above the required levels and it goes back to the river.
It took three years to drill from the dam to the outflow. The tunnel through is 26km longer than the Northern bypass.
The width of the surge chambers is big enough to accommodate four buildings of Mapera House size. The tunnel network cross Gulu highway at Karuma town.

Karuma in figures
6,000: The number of workers at the project
5,300: Ugandans employed on the project.
3: Number of years taken to drill tunnels.
26kms: Length of tunnel network.
60 months: Project duration period.
6: Number of units, each producing 100MW.