By Ibrahim Kasita
The newly-built 250 megawatts (MW) Bujagali Hydropower station is not supplying adequate electricity to the national grid, causing serious blackout across the country.
This is because one of the five units (turbines) in the power station was taken out of service for scheduled repair and maintenance.
But as the unit was about to resume service,, a second unit got technical problem and this has forced massive power cuts across the country, which is likely to cause economic and social losses.
John Berry, the Bujagali Energy Ltd general manager, explained that since August this year, the power station has been undergoing planned repair and maintenance which required removal of unit by unit.
“Unfortunately Unit 3 tripped on oil leakage at 14:02h on 4/12/2013. This is a forced outage,” he said yesterday.
“It was established that a runner blade seal needs to be replaced. This is projected to take about 8 days as the unit has to be fully dewatered and disassembled/assembled.”
Fred Kabagambe-Kaliisa, the permanent secretary of the ministry of energy and mineral development, said it was normal for units to undergo maintenance to ensure there is adequate generation.
“That is why we have the thermal generators to always supply electricity in case of such emergency,” he said.
“But we should have more stand-by power generators to avoid load-shedding,” he said.
Bujagali Hydropower project which was commissioned by President Yoweri Museveni. PHOTO/Donald Kiirya
Thermal power generation in Uganda is not a new phenomenon as they were introduced in the energy mix in 2005 at the height of acute load-shedding.
However they were eliminated when Bujagali hydropower station was fully commissioned in 2012 as cost of maintaining thermal generators became unsustainable.
This was because government scrapped-off end-user tariffs for domestic consumers in efforts to ensure the energy sector is financially sustainable.
Now the re-introduction of thermal power in the energy mix raises fears that electricity prices are likely go up a situation that will hurt consumers.
In fact a few months, the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) had requested for an automatic tariff adjustments which the public rejected during consultations.
But William Kiryahika, the deputy chief of Uganda Electricity Transmission Company (UETCL), said having no power at all is more expensive than using thermal generation.
“Thermal power provides security of supply. But most importantly it is more expensive to the economy if there is no power at all,” he said.
“The regulator has accepted that there is money that will pay for the thermal electricity in the current tariffs. But this is only temporary and it is not sustainable.”
Kabagambe-Kaliisa pointed out that it would be unsustainable for government to pay subsidies for electricity.
“Government should only focus on strategic investments in energy infrastructure for electricity sector sustainability,” he said.
“Consumers will experience short-term pain but will be sure that they will be okay in the long-run. There is no option.”
The Aga Khan and President Yoweri Museveni plant trees during the launch of Bujagali dam.
At the current rate the demand is growing, either thermal unit will become a constant feature of the generation mix or load-shedding will resume later next year.
Experts said the sustainability of the electricity sector will call for the implementation of the automatic tariff adjustments for fuel and foreign exchange rates.
Bujagali hydropower station is constrained for generation capacity and without the thermal units.
Bujagali hydropower station shut-down timeline
- Unit 1 was taken out of service for scheduled outage on 27th Nov. at 21:00h. A scheduled outages is normally agreed with UETCL a year ahead (similar to taking a car for service) in order to enable system operators ensure there is adequate generation – using other sources.
- The unit was due to resume service Saturday (7/12/2013) – which it did at 16:25h.
- Unfortunately whilst Unit 1 was on scheduled outage, Unit 3 tripped on oil leakage at 14:02h on 4/12/2013. This is a forced outage. It was established that a runner blade seal needs to be replaced. This is projected to take about 8 days as the unit has to be fully dewatered and disassembled/assembled.
- Scheduled and forced outages are provided for in the life of a plant’s operation, hence the establishment of contracted target availability.
(More details in tomorrow’s (Tuesday) New Vision business pages)