Greetings! I bring to your attention reports about the alarming degradation of forests to meet energy needs. Like many Ugandans, you too must have seen reports on massive degradation of forests for charcoal and firewood.
Madame, you must be aware that the Acholi Region Drafted Charcoal Policy to regulate activities in the charcoal industry but the high power tariffs leaves citizens without alternative energy source to enable the growing population to meet their energy needs.
Uganda losses about 100,000 hectares of forest cover every year and per USAID’s Uganda Biodiversity and Tropical Forest Assessment report, “approximately 25 million tons of wood are consumed annually in Uganda [with the] majority of that wood [being] used as household firewood (65%), charcoal (16%) and commercial and industrial firewood (14%).”
Indeed as UBOS’ Uganda National Household Survey of 2016/2017 showed, over 90% of the people in Uganda depend on firewood and charcoal for cooking.
The above evidence is so loud, lack of access to reliable and affordable modern clean energy such as cheap electricity is hurting our forests!
Despite the change in climate patterns resulting from deforestation, a number of activities including agriculture are affected yet it’s the backbone for Uganda’s economy.
It employs about 80% of the population and 65 % of the households depend entirely on agriculture and stands to lose a lot because of deforestation.
Why should this be a concern?
As you’re aware, our country has heavily invested in the construction of electricity dams while others are still underway.
These include the 183 MW Isimba, 250MW Bujagali, 200MW Kiira and 180MW Nalubaale dam and the ongoing 600MW Karuma.
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.
The investments being made in hydro sector are huge. However, while hydropower is cheap in other countries, it is expensive in Uganda. Indeed as you must be aware that the president has severally pointed out that at US cents 11, the power generated from Bujagali is too expensive.
The reasons for this? Greed, selfishness and corruption involved in the signing of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) that sees officials you supervise sign PPAs that guarantee investors high return rates on their investments with the officials being given kickbacks!
The above and other inefficiencies in the public sector translate into high end user tariffs –currently standing at Shs718.9 per unit, - that you know the majority of Ugandans, 21.4% of whom live below the poverty line, cannot afford. Manufacturers have also severally complained that power tariffs are too high.
In the face of the above, youhave done little to invest in off-grid solutions. There is high interest in cheap solar power in rural areas but you continue to extend hydro power to villages. You executing a Free Connections for All policy that is going to cost Ugandans Shs 174 billion every year!
Yet we know that even when connections are made at no cost, a unit of power that costs over Shs718.9 per unittoday is too expensive. This means that poor Ugandans, though they will be connected to the national grid, will continue to go without power while Ugandans fork out Shs 174 billion every year to connect them to the national grid!
This is not the only misguided policy direction that you has undertaken however you are well aware that when power generated from the mini grids across the country is added to the central grid, power losses occur.
This drives the tariff up, trapping rural communities and indeed other poor Ugandans into the endless cycle of lack of access to clean, affordable and reliable modern energy.
You have also done little to sensitise communities on how to transform themselves using the power extended to them. It is said that rural electricity access stands at over 10% today but are we realising economic benefits from this? Well, with subsistence agriculture still being the pre-dominant form of economic activity for rural areas and with little value addition being made to products, it can be said that the electricity your ministry is extending to rural areas has delivered few economic benefits.
Unless electricity is accessible, reliable and affordable,your ministry will continue to highly contribute to the environmental degradation in the country and all its consequences.
What should be done therefore?
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, Vision 2040 which highlights access to energy as fundamental is enabling the country to shift from a peasantry to an industralised and largely urban society, the Government must plan and invest wisely.
We must know the energy sources that are more relevant to the needs of the poor.
You should increase investments in solar energy to meet the energy needs of all Ugandans. Access to affordable energy is crucial in the eradication of poverty and environmental degradation.
You should also sensitise communities on how to use electricity extended to them for transformation. Affordable and reliable electricity can increase access to safe water, information, food security, better health, enable value addition to products, and reduce the need for using traditional sources of energy such as firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating.
I and other well-meaning Ugandans look forward to your co-operation
For God and My Country
Research Consultant at Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)