By Brian K Katabazi
The Government is developing a new electricity policy that will see millions of people connected to the power grip without any charges.
This will increase access to power, from about 22% of Ugandans currently accessing it.
However, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) was established to operationalise government rural electrification task. It is a semi- self-governing entity that was established by an Act of Parliament. Its responsibilities and mandate are defined in the 1999 electricity Act.
Established as a statutory instrument in 2001, REA commenced its operations in 2003. It has since implemented projects which include independent grids and off grid solutions, renewable energy generation, grid extension and photovoltaic systems.
In 2013, less than 7% of Uganda’s rural population had electricity service accessibility. The Government had set a goal of rural electrification access to 26% in a period of 10 years from 2013.
To achieve this, REA had to strengthen its efforts and apply transformative/modified approaches for extending electricity to rural areas. In its efforts to realise the set 10 years’ goal programme of achieving 26% rural electrification, rural electrification agency is currently undertaking a number of activities that include connecting all district headquarters, extending electricity to all communities that are under implementation phase, provision of electricity to trading centres, schools, health centres and rehabilitation of damaged lines.
In the financial year 2013/14, 90% of all then existing Ugandan district headquarters were already connected to the national grid. Five district headquarters had been connected in the same financial year i.e. Otuk, Amuru, Moyo, Buliisa and Adjuman. This indicated that rural electrification agency was progressing towards achieving its primary goal of availing electricity to all upcountry areas and more especially the rural. More visible in areas that had no hope of having access to the national grid are currently connected.
In the recent upcountry visit I had to my home district, I made a stopover at Buguri, a rural trading centre situated in Buyanja subcounty Rukungir district. To my surprise, Biguri was lighting courtesy of REA.
This is a good step achieved towards getting all national rural areas connected. Amidst progress of rural electrification, I realised that more efforts are needed towards sensitising the general public on harnessing and sustaining this power.
On October 10, the Electricity Regulatory Authority announced reduction in price of electricity per unit consumed from sh686 to sh685.6 for saloons, kiosks, households and shops.
This is another power price reduction in the last four months. Reducing prices of power per unit consumed is one other good initiative towards making power affordable to the locals. But this is still too high for saloon operators in rural settings, if they are to make any profits. Previously, a saloon or kiosk operator that consumed 1,000 units would pay 686,000, but currently will pay 685,600, hence saving sh400.
This arithmetic informs us that on every one unit consumed, a saloon operator in Biguri will save only sh0.4 from the recent power price reduction. Such power prices are still very high to favour small and growing businesses that still consume low volumes of electricity as compared to heavy consumers such as industries and factories.
This is where REA must work closely with ERA to bring down power prices further so that power lines do not merely pass over houses in rural areas, but should be used to generate income for rural populace.
Most of the homes and rural trading centres currently connected only use power for lighting, making it an expense instead of an income generating input. This is another critical area where REA must sensitise the public on how to harness this electricity generate income than only spending on it.
From less than 7% in 2013 to 8.05% rural electricity accessibility in 2017, we are progressing as a country in terms of accessibility but more effort is needed in sensitising the locals on how to harness and put electricity into productive use. Consideration should be that 70% transformers installed should be for productive use and 30% towards other activities like lighting.
The writer is the Associate Director of the Centre for Energy Governance