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REA, UEDCL lock horns over rotten electricity poles

By Moses Walubiri

Added 5th September 2018 04:09 PM

An average pole's service life ranges between 30 to 40 years if the right boxes like maturity, drying and treatment are ticked

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Rural Electrification Agency (REA) executive director Godfrey Werikhe (centre) appearing before Parliament’s committee on commissions, statutory authorities and state enterprises. Left is REA executive director Godfrey Turyahikayo. Photo by Miriam Namutebi

An average pole's service life ranges between 30 to 40 years if the right boxes like maturity, drying and treatment are ticked

Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL) — two agencies that are integral to connection of different areas of the country to the national grid are disagreeing over the quality of poles used by the later in the transmission of electricity.

REA is a semi-autonomous body established by an Act of Parliament, whose core mandate is to foster Government’s rural electrification drive. It functions as a secretariat of the Rural Electrification Board (REB) which carries out the rural electrification responsibilities, as defined in the Electricity Act of 1999.

The UEDCL is a parastatal company whose primary purpose is to distribute electric power to domestic and commercial end-users in Uganda, at and below 33 kilovolts.

In his audit report for the financial year ending June 30th, 2016 that was the subject of an interface between REA’s top brass and lawmakers sitting on the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises on Wednesday, the Auditor General John Muwanga noted that 40% of the poles on the network in Pader district, in Northern Uganda were rotten.

According to REA’s deputy executive director, Godfrey Werikhe, UEDCL, which is one of the largest suppliers of poles, is frustrating efforts aimed at eventually weeding out substandard electricity poles which rot after a short period.

One such intervention, Werikhe told lawmakers, is entering into contracts with poles suppliers to give a ten-year warranty of the poles supplied.

“UEDCL is against giving a warranty that goes beyond five years,” Werikhe, with REA executive director, Godfrey Turyahikayo and other REA top brass in tow said.

Asked by MPs Ssewungu Gonzaga, (Kalungu West), Florence Namayanja, (Bukoto East), and Moses Kasibante (Rubaga North) whether any progress had been made in reducing REA’s financial outlay on replacing rotten poles, Werikhe revealed that the entity has increased its due diligence before sanctioning purchase of poles.

Among the new checklist includes technical audit of facilities that treat poles and checking the quality of the poles before treatment to ascertain the moisture content.

An average pole service life, according to the North America Wood Pole Council, ranges between 30 to 40 years if the right boxes like maturity, drying and treatment are ticked.

In 2016, UMEME revealed that it was set to expend an estimated Sh8b to replace rotten poles - an outlay that is deemed unsustainable.

Appearing before Parliament’s natural resources committee in January 2017, Irene Muloni, the energy and mineral development minister, said government plans to replace wooden poles with concrete ones.

Recently, UEDCL also revealed plans to ditch wooden poles for concrete ones, what they described as high cost of wooden poles and treatment as well.

According to UEDCL, currently a wooden pole cost between sh150,000 and sh180,000 depending on its height.

Poor quality wooden poles are a major cause of intermittent power outages and safety concern through electrocution when live copper wires come hurtling on the ground in stormy weather.

In other audit queries, Muwanga revealed that insulator quality on the national grid is poor and auto-closures were missing on the Kilak-Abim line.

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