By Rose Namayanja Nsereko (MP)
Pre-1986 was a dark period for Uganda - literally. The darkness resulting from chronic power shortages and blackouts also symbolised the dark politics of that era.
Under the NRM government's comprehensive recovery programme, adequate electricity generation was envisaged to power the economy and light-up the country.
The steady growth of Uganda's economy over the last 30 years is creditable in good measure, to the continuous increase in power generation since 1986. Indeed, power generation remains among the key strategic areas of focus by the NRM Government. The effect of the cumulative investment has been a surge in power generation from 60 Mega Watts (MW) in 1986 to 856 MW by 2015.
Industrial production, information and communication technology, quality education laboratories, health diagnostic systems, oil and mineral extraction, pumping clean water and agricultural value addition - can only be attainable with sufficient power supply.
Investment interventions have been consistently targeted at boosting of the national generation and distribution capacity. For instance, in Financial Year (FY) 2014/2015 alone, the budget for the sector was sh1.829.39 trillion. This heavy investment accounts for completion of some key dams over the last three years.
Aringa and Isimba dams completed in 2014 introduced an extra 400 MW and 120 MW respectively. Expansion of Bujagali dam and construction of Ayago dam in the same period added another 250 MW and 700 MW to the national grid respectively.
Under the Northern Corridor Integration Project, new transmission infrastructure has been established, for instance, the Mbarara-Mirama and Tororo-Lessos lines. In 2014/15, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEND) constructed 2,609km of transmission lines. Meanwhile, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) constructed 2,679km of similar lines. Also under REA, construction of another 1,938km of transmission is nearing completion. As a result, in 2014/15, some 51,882 customers compared to 19,802 customers in FY 2013/14 to the grid.
The Government extended the national grid power distribution to households and expanded the coverage by over 5,000km.
Power generation in Uganda will increase tremendously from the current 850 MW upon completion of Karuma and Isimba and other hydropower dams alongside several geo-thermal stations. This is envisaged to significantly bring down the cost of power in Uganda in the next five years.
Elsewhere, grid-based rural electrification is being rolled out all around the country. In 2015 alone, 2,609km on-grid linked transmission lines were completed. In the earlier period, another 1,775km of such lines had been completed and duly commissioned.
There are another 1,938km of medium voltage and 1,633km of low voltage lines are nearing completion. Accordingly, new beneficiaries under the government's Rural Electrification Program include some 46,000 new connections on the national grid and 1,968 on solar connections. These include five district headquarters that were connected by close of 2014.
The district headquarters include Buliisa, Adjumani, Moyo, Amuru and Otuke. Kalangala has been connected to solar and diesel powered plants, with the district now on 24-hour service.
Today, the number of districts serviced with power in Uganda stands at 103 (92%). Thus, the promises by presidential candidates like FDC's Kizza Besigye and Go Forward's (backwards) Amama Mbabaza to improve power supply here are comical at the very best.
To diversify generation capacity, the Government has been developing other sources of power. For instance, the Kakira Sugar Works power station has been upgraded and now generates 50MW of power, of which 20MW is linked to the national grid. When the upgrading of Kinyara Sugar factory to 35MW generation capacity is concluded, another 25MW will be available for linking to the national grid.
Elsewhere, Sugar and Allied Industries in Kaliro is generating 6.9MW and Mayuge Sugar is to generate 6.3MW for the national grid and the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited at Lugazi generates 30MW. The Government is also developing wind energy sources, with the first project is being implemented in Karamoja. Seven wind turbines have been installed with test generation under-way.
Today, Uganda's power generation capacity is more promising than ever. Development of Karuma Hydropower Project (600MW) is ongoing and will be completed by close of 2018. Isimba Hydropower Project (183MW) is well on course, with access roads, engineering designs and initial networks complete.
A feasibility study for Ayago Hydropower Project (840MW) is complete and the construction of the plant and transmission lines is starting. Construction of the Achwa Hydropower Project (83MW) is projected to be concluded by the end of 2016. Designing of Muzizi Hydropower Project (44.7MW) is complete with construction getting under-way.
The Government has another integrated Small Hydropower Project under which several dams are to be built at various sites around the country. These include Nyamwamba (9.2MW), Rwimi (5.54MW), Siti 1 (6.1MW), Nengo Bridge (6.7MW), Waki (4.8MW), Muvumbe (6.5MW), Lubilia (5.4MW), Nyagak III (4.4MW), Siti II (15MW) and Kyambura (7.6MW). Concurrent construction all these will commence in July 2016 and will add to the national grid a combined 64 MW of power.
To meet the power needs of various consumption segments, the Government has invested in 171 new distribution lines of which 678km are of medium voltage capacity and 728km are of the low voltage category. The connection process started and priority beneficiaries are rural areas in districts including Wakiso, Butambala, Mpigi, Mityana, Mubende, Masaka, Sembabule, Rakai, Gomba, Kiruhura, Nakasongola, Luwero, Nakaseke, Hoima and Kayunga.
Others are Mukono, Jinja, Luuka, Kamuli; Manafwa, Mbale, Tororo, Sironko, Butaleja, Budaka, Bulambuli, Bududa, Serere and Soroti.
Rural areas in Pallisa, Kapchorwa, Kumi, Mbarara, Sheema, Bushenyi, Ibanda, Ntungamo, Rukungiri, Kabale, Kanungu, Kisoro, Kasese, Rubirizi, Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Otuke, Lira and Lamwo are the others to be supplied with power on this infrastructure.
Connetions linking Zombo, Koboko, Maracha, Yumbe and Namayingo to the national grid are also well under-way.
Works on extending power to Nwoya, Kaabong and Kotido districts will commence in July 2016. In other semi-arid areas far from the main grid, where dams cannot be built, the Government is investment in solar and thermal generated electricity so that they can also enjoy socio-economic services powered by electricity.
Meantime, the Government is also sensitising consumers to minimise wastage and realise maximum utility from the available power. More investments in alternative sources of energy like nuclear energy are being undertaken.
Implementation of the power generation, transmission and utilisation policy is to be stepped-up. The institutional framework for over-seeing Uganda's power sector will be strengthened further.
Ultimately, NRM envisages clean energy sources for most of our people. This is a healthier option for Ugandans and will curtail environmental degradation resulting from extensive reliance on fuel wood particularly at house-hold level.
Uganda's current power generation capacity and the potential being developed guarantees that Uganda will remain attractive for investment now and in future.
In this regard, therefore, the 2016 general elections in Uganda are, in a way, a referendum. NRM and President Museveni represent the side powering and lighting up Uganda. FDC's Kizza Besigye, Go Forwards' (backwards') Amama Mbabazi and co' represent a futile attempt to return the country to ‘powerlessness' and darkness. Surely, come February 18 and our electorate will opt for more power and light!
The writer is the National Treasurer of the National Resistance Movement