Energy challenge: Do we go for Murchison Falls or environment?

What you need to know:

  • Carbon emissions vary. The green image of hydro power as an alternative to fossil fuels is questionable. Studies have shown that hydro electric dams produce significant amounts of carbondioxide and methane, and in some cases, produce more of these green house gases than power plants running on fossil fuels. Carbon emissions vary from dam to dam, according to a study by Brazil’s National Institute for Research in the Amazon in Manaus.

Globally, there is an energy challenge that has been termed as the ‘energy trilemma.’ Governments are faced with the challenge of competing demands of energy security, climate change mitigation, and energy poverty.

The energy trilemma unfolds differently in different contexts and countries. Most governments look at energy security and poverty while giving less attention to climate change mitigation.
Energy security is conventionally defined as having a reliable and adequate supply of energy at reasonable prices, which by implication, also means addressing short-term and long-term energy insecurity.

One can therefore understand why the Uganda government seeks to have a power station at Murchison falls.The government aims at doing away with the challenge of energy insecurity.

However, Uganda currently has excess power production after Isimba Dam (183MW) was added to the national grid. In a few months, we will have more power on the grid from Karuma Dam (600MW).

The argument is that power is needed to spur industrialisation and that the excess power will be consumed by the oil and gas sector or the industrialisation boom from the sector.

Since the country now has excess power through hydro power production, we should think of alternative power sources to mitigate effects of climate change. Most writers have pointed out the need to protect Murchison Falls for tourism, which is a great concern because it is one of the biggest foreign exchange earners for our economy. I will leave tourism for Mr Amos Wekesa and others, and look at climate change first.

In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to exploit other renewable energy sources.
Hydro power is a renewable energy source, but huge power dams like one expected at Murchison Falls has great impact on climate change. Some scholars say hydropower is not a ‘real’ renewable source due to its great impact on the environment.

However, looking at the definition of what a renewable energy source is, hydro power remains a renewable energy source though with a great impact on the environment.

The green image of hydro power as an alternative to fossil fuels is questionable. Studies have shown that hydro electric dams produce significant amounts of carbondioxide and methane, and in some cases, produce more of these green house gases than power plants running on fossil fuels. Carbon emissions vary from dam to dam, according to a study by Brazil’s National Institute for Research in the Amazon in Manaus.

It is, therefore, time to rethink our energy agenda for the sake of climate. The country can exploit other renewable sources like solar power, wind power, and biomass. We can have large solar power stations in all sub-regions of the country, wind farms in places such as Karamoja and the island districts.

A reduction of construction of more large power dams can save the environment and also protect our tourism potential. We can have small power dams on our small falls such as the one at Kisiizi in Rukungiri District, among others.

The other renewable energy have a challenge of intermittency and the huge expenses in setting up renewable power stations. The issue of intermittency can be rectified by having storage facilities where solar power can be stored and used during rainy seasons or at night.

About expenses of setting up renewable power plants, we can utilise the funding from World Bank under the Green Climate Fund (GCF), European Union and Nordic countries.
Climate action will save us from poverty, food insecurity, floods, droughts and other extremes. Climate change affects the poor countries most due to lack of adaptation mechanisms.
Therefore, our priority should be climate change mitigation.

It should be noted that climate change is non-linear and a simple change may cause adverse effects. We, therefore, need to always think of our mother Earth in all the projects being undertaken for sustainable development.

Climate change threatens the very future of the human race and there is a need for a radical energy transition.

Pope Francis recently said: “The climate crisis requires our decisive action here and now”. The Pontiff continued to state: “ There is still hope and there remains time to avoid the worst impact of climate change provided there is prompt and resolute action”.

Mr Kamuganga is a lawyer and policy
associate at Envirosure Consulting
[email protected]