UETCL back to drawing board after Shs1.5b loss

High voltage power lines. UETCL is charged with the bulk evacuation of power from the generation companies, with the aid of high voltage (132Kv and 220Kv) power lines. PHOTO / FILE

What you need to know:

  • The vandalism of equipment under what had been dubbed “the tower protection system” was brought to light in the Auditor General’s report for the period ended June 30, 2021.

The Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) has been forced to close a pilot security system project after a $412,000 (about Shs1.5b) system that had been installed to protect transmission lines in Mabira forest was vandalised.

The vandalism of equipment under what had been dubbed “the tower protection system” was brought to light in the Auditor General’s report for the period ended June 30, 2021.

“The management [of UETCL] installed a pilot security system on transmission lines. However, the system was itself vandalised,” the report reads in part.

Mr Martin Orone, the manager for corporate services in-charge of security, told Saturday Monitor that each of the 50 towers that were part of the project were equipped with a camera, a solar-powered backup battery, a siren, and a GSM communication system.

The system relays information back to the control room with the aid of some software. The project was, however, forced to close after less than a year of operation.

Things fall apart

“For the first six months, it was okay. But after six months, they began to continuously hit the system. I think it was a concerted effort. More than half of the cameras were vandalised,” Mr Orone said

He added: “In other cases, some of the towers lost their power batteries or panels and were rendered redundant. The project had to be called off. We retrieved whatever had not been vandalised.”

The project had, however, been experiencing glitches even before the vandals struck.

Mr Orone revealed that the spacing between the towers, weaknesses in the GSM system and power fluctuations had made it difficult for the system to work well.

“The feedback was meant to come by GSM sim cards, but the signal in most of those remote areas is so poor,” he said.

“Unlike the city where one can pick the network signal off another nearby tower, the towers in those remote areas are spaced and they at times have issues with electricity. The signals were, therefore, on and off, which could have played into the hands of the vandals,” he added.

Mr Erone says UETCL is looking at the possibility of utilising other technological innovations and systems that can work better than what had been installed during the pilot project phase.

UETCL is charged with the bulk evacuation of power from the generation companies, with the aid of high voltage (132Kv and 220Kv) power lines.

The Auditor General’s report reveals that the energy transmitter spent Shs1.5b on the reconstruction of transmission lines that had been vandalised between 2017 and 2021.

It adds that Shs500m was spent on the purchase of galvanised angle bars to replace vandalised tower members.

UETCL—for the most part—uses steel in the construction of towers for the transmission lines. Vandals also target steel for sale to mostly scrap dealers.

“Vandalism impedes continuity and reliability of electricity supply to the country and strains company resources used to replace vandalised items and associated works. In addition, energy not transmitted due to infrastructure breakdown translates into loss in revenue to the company,” the Auditor General noted.

Last September, the country was plunged into a nationwide blackout after vandals struck five transmission towers between Nalubaale (Owen Falls) Dam and Lugogo Sub-station, where it is distributed to Kampala, Mukono and the surrounding areas.

UETCL restored power supply under emergency status pending full restoration of the transmission line, but this meant disruptions in supply across the country. That came with losses that have never been quantified.

Back to drawing board

Ms Pamela Nalwanga Byoruganda, the UETCL principal public relations officer, told Saturday Monitor that despite Parliament, on April 13, passing the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which increased the penalty for interference with metres and electrical lines, vandalism and illegal connections from Shs100,000 or imprisonment for one year to a fine of Shs4 million or imprisonment for 10 years, the company is still working to find even more ways of dealing with the question of vandalism.

“We have gone back to the drawing table with the Ministry of Energy because we realised it is a sector-wide kind of problem. They are now in the process of mapping out how best we can deal with it,” Ms Byoruganda said.

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