Kampala, Uganda — Lawmakers have said that corruption and connivance are to blame for the shutdown of Isimba hydropower plant.
The Members of Parliament were responding to the statement by the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa on the emergency shutdown of the plant.
The 183 megawatts Isimba Hydropower plant in Kayunga district experienced a shut down on Monday, 08 August 2022.
Nankabirwa told the MPs that the plant flooded because of maintenance works.
“One of the generating units was out of use to allow the contractor to undertake routine maintenance. At the time of the incident, the scheduled works included installation and testing of equipment supplied by the contractor for safe access to the powerhouse,” said Nankabirwa.
She said that as the operations and maintenance team at the Uganda Electricity Generation Company (UEGCL) was attempting to create a safe working environment within the powerhouse working area, a malfunction occurred, causing flow of water into the powerhouse.
“Consequently, dam safety procedures were automatically triggered to ensure the safety of staff, protection of equipment and production and prevention of potential dam failure. Investigations are underway to establish the cause of this incident,” Nankabirwa said.
She reassured MPs that appropriate measures are being undertaken to restore power production within three weeks.
“In these three weeks, we have decided to use the manual mode; the plant has two systems, automated and manual. Within three weeks, we will begin the generation but not in full capacity, full capacity will start in six weeks,” she said.
The Minister also clarified that the country’s installed power generation capacity is 1378.1 megawatts, which indicates excess generation relative to the country’s peak system demand of 900 megawatts, including 50 megawatts of power export to Kenya.
“It is important to note that without major breakdowns on the system like loss of a major generation facility as we have experienced with Isimba Hydropower plant, Uganda’s current total generation capacity is sufficient to meet our current electricity demands,” she said.
Nankabirwa added that power from some of the plants is not fully evacuated due to lack of transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Bugabula County South MP, Maurice Kibalya however asked the Minister to take keen interest in the actual cause of the total shutdown, saying that it was intentional.
“The issue that happened was not flooding; the issue was technical and there are chances that they are intentional. Pick interest in the cost of thermal after shutdown of Isimba, you will see. Some of these things are not by accident and mistake,” said Kibalya.
Abigaba Cuthbert, Kibale County MP said that by generating more than what the country consumes, the country is investing much money and yet it cannot be consumed.
“In engineering studies, it means that our engineers are not doing us a good job, so there is a problem. That is why I want to side with my brother Kibalya that they are either in some kind of sabotage or possibly the ministry has run out of competent engineers to manage the system,” he said.
Kigorobya County MP, David Karubanga said that the minister fell short of divulging the actual cause of the total shutdown.
“When there is a flood, it is either failure on power supply and watering pumps or leakages overpowering the dewatering system. I also join other colleagues who want to say that construction of power dams has been a big problem,” he said.
Agnes Atim Apea, Amolatar district MP said the shutdown shows ineffectiveness and poor planning of electricity generation.
“If you know the capacity of electricity generation and one plant shuts down, I do not see how it affects the whole system. Every year we appropriate more than Shs100 billion for energy, how do you start generating what you know you cannot evacuate. It is either connivance or corruption,” she said.
Aringa South County MP, Yorke Alioni Odria questioned why the country is generating power in excess and yet some parts of the country like West Nile have shortage of power supply.
“The minister should come out clearly on this. She needs to tell Parliament the way forward; we are not going to get loans and the money is not utilised. The country is losing. It is not a joke, this country is going down because people are not sincere,” he said.
Lillian Aber, Kitgum District MP also asked the minister to pay close attention to contractors, saying that most of them do not deliver.
“The minister should take keen interest and ensure that contracts are given to people who deliver. We have had the issue of installation of transformer and it has taken four years. Suppliers let us down in terms of quality,” she said.
Kimaanya-Kabonera Division MP, Abed Bwanaki called for a thorough investigation into the energy sector.
“81 percent of Ugandans are not on the electricity grid yet power is the driver of the economy but people cannot access power,” he said.
The Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa referred the matter to the Committee on Natural Resources and gave a three weeks’ ultimatum for presentation of the report.
“Please ensure that you do not interfere with ongoing repair works; we do not want Parliament to be used as an excuse. This is a dam we commissioned not more than two years ago and we know the rain patterns. How can we say we never foresaw such a situation, can we remedy it?” he said.
He also urged the Minister to address the mismatch between consumable capacity, installed capacity and generation capacity.
“We are misled as a country and especially when it comes to paying dimmable energy costs in excess of hundreds of billions every financial year. Because why do you sign an agreement, you start paying and you do not plan for evacuating that power. That is poor planning,” he said.