ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE ELECTRICITY IS KEY FOR DEVELOPMENT

Recently, media was washed with the commissioning of 183MW Isamba hydropower dam, pushing the Uganda’s electricity generation to 1158 MW.It recommends that the electricity to the national grid will be at $ 5 cent cheapest in East Africa.

This comes after numerous studies and papers published drawing the attention of the unmet demand for access to adequate, affordable and reliable electricity of poor urban and rural communities in Uganda.

A number of dams have been constructed for electricity while others are still underway. These include the 250MW Bujagali, 200MW Kiira and 180MWNalubaale dam and the ongoing 600MW Karuma. Uganda relies on hydropower for over 90%.

As government takes on the construction of Karuma  $1.4 billion, the key question remain: whether electricity produced by these dams will be affordable to most Ugandans especially the rural dwellers where over 95% remain dependent on crude fuels with all the associated health and environmental dangers.

While the energy sector and electricity in particular are taking third position (over UGX2,685.4  billion) of the national budget per year and is one of those compelling the government to increase borrowing, almost the entire population still relies on biomass for its cooking needs due to unaffordable high power tariffs.  

For example the 250MW Bujagali hydro-power project completed in 2012, cost skyrocketed from an initial estimate of US$530 million to over US$ 902 million. To date, Ugandans are paying over US cents 13 compared to the promised US cents 6 at the commencement of Bujagali project. It is such high tariffs that have undermined the impressive economic growth figures to benefit the citizens in form of jobs and other social services.  

While the government of Uganda has continued to spend most of the energy sector budget on hydro power, it has failed to appreciate that the worsening climatic changes cannot allow the big dams to produce their capacity. As a country, we have refused to take the advice of the UN Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change  which has continued to ask governments to take into account climate conditions while making decisions on where and how to invest.

Investing in renewable energy would safe guard the country from climate change impacts. It would also allow the generation of clean energy from different parts of the country depending on the demand rather than concentrating the generation on River Nile with associated costs of transporting to long distances-consumption centres. This will eventually make clean energy affordable and contribute to national, regional and global initiatives to help at least 500 million people from the developing countries including Uganda access clean energy by 2030.

Therefore, for Uganda to achieve the current Rural Electrification Strategic Plan target 2013-2022, which is to achieve electrification access of 22 percent and contribute to the global initiative of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL),  Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) seven, the Government must plan and invest wisely. We must know the energy sources that are more relevant to the needs of the poor. 

Winnie Nakalyowa

Project Assistant at STREC