Umeme MD apologizes over power outages in northern Uganda

Umeme MD apologizes over power outages in northern Uganda
Selestino Babungi, Umeme Limited Managing Director

In a rare show of concern, the Managing Director of power distributor Umeme, Selestino Babungi, says he feels the pain for electricity consumers in northern Uganda who endure rampant outages.

Speaking in an interview with this publication, Babungi said on Thursday, that on average electricity consumers in the North experience 15 days of outages, that is half of an entire month, and six months a year.

This publication had sought to find out why the northern half of Uganda keeps experiencing frequent power outages yet there is constant over supply of electricity.

A critical town like Gulu has, for example, been experiencing total and sustained blackout for four straight days in the recent past.

Uganda’s peak power system demand currently stands at 570 megawatts against an installed generation capacity of 851 megawatts, meaning the country is having power surplus.

Despite the power surplus, the northern half of Uganda continues to suffer frequent outages. Some of the most hit urban centres are Gulu, Lira, Soroti, Adjumani, Moyo, Apac and a string of growth centres.

The North is experiencing rapid economic growth after years of violent conflict, but reliable electricity required to power that growth is yet to be provided.

Also experiencing rampant power outages are consumers on Hoima and Fort Portal lines.

According to Babungi, the major challenge is that these areas are served by 33KVA lines, with not enough capacity to transmit lots of power.

Babungi says northern Uganda is also served by lines on wooden poles, some in swamps, which frequently fall down causing outages.

He says the problem is worsened by the fact that Apuyo sub-station, that serves northern Uganda, was built in the 1950s and is not up to modern engineering standards.

Babungi says the good news is that the entire Northern line is being rebuilt in order to improve power supply to the region, adding that the line will extend to West Nile and the South Sudan border.

According to Babungi, another power line will be extended from Karuma to Gulu, to create a ring of electricity from Karuma Dam and the current national grid.

Similarly, says Babungi, the transmission lines to Fort Portal and Hoima are being rebuilt in order to stabilise power supply.

Presently, the southern half of Uganda, from the Kenyan border to the Rwandan border, is enjoying almost uninterrupted power supply due to stabilisation of the transmission lines.

Umeme has been in the news for negative reasons stemming from President Yoweri Museveni’s letter to Energy Minister Irene Muloni complaining about what he called continued exorbitant power prices by the power company.

In 2005 Umeme Limited acquired a 20-year concession as the main power distributor in the country.

Museveni in his letter dated March 12 argued that the concession was messed up by Energy ministry officials leading to continued exorbitant prices for electricity in the country.

“The cheating started with fraud of inflating the magnitude of the technical and commercial losses. The Auditor General had calculated the two categories of losses to be 28 percent in 2005,” Museveni says.

The president says that the percentage of losses suddenly shot up to 38 percent after a delegation of Ugandans went to USA and “mysteriously together with the investors hiked the magnitude of the technical and commercial losses.”

Museveni mentioned the Salim Saleh report in 2009 which investigated causes of high power prices in the country, saying that after the report was made public the losses mysteriously went back to 28 percent. Of this, 15 percent were caused by old wires and 13 percent by non-collection of debts by the defunct Uganda Electricity Board.