Monday, September 12, 2011

Uganda allows Eskom to take up more water for hydropower

Uganda allows Eskom to take up more water for hydropower


Posted Saturday, September 10 2011 at 17:54

Ugandans have received a temporary reprieve from further power
rationing after generating company Eskom was allowed to continue
drawing enough water from Lake Victoria to produce 205MW of electricity.

At 1,000 cubic metres per second, the current �water drawdown� levels
violates regional policy agreements between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya
that limit releases to 700 cubic metres per second in order to avoid
potentially catastrophic drops in water levels in the lake levels.

The decision is thus being seen as politically driven, a take by a
government fearful of civil unrest.

At the end of a meeting that dragged on for most of Thursday between
officials from the Ministry of Energy and technocrats from the
Directorate of Water Resources Management (DWRM), plans to cut back
the drawdown from Lake Victoria by 30 per cent to 700 cubic metres per
second were shelved as government backed down fearing the likely
economic and political consequences.

With a heavily diluted currency translating into scarcity of essential
goods and inflation that has lightened the shopping basket by more
than 30 per cent, Uganda is in protest mode and since April, the
government has been battling one form of demonstration or another.
Sources say the government is afraid that further power rationing
could feed into the cycle of political protests.

�All of us in the region have power challenges and loadshedding. We
are using the resources we have until we get the first unit at
Bujagali operational in the next two months,� Energy Minister Irene
Muloni said in justification of the decision, which could see Lake
Victoria water levels sink further.

Although the rains have come, the lake levels have not risen
sufficiently to support adequate hydropower generation. Hydrologic
experts say even with the heavy downpours over the past month, there
has not been enough of an increase in lake water levels to allow
Uganda to use more than the authorised releases of 700 cubic metres
per second.

At the end of June, Eskom Uganda Ltd applied and was permitted by DWRM
� the regulator co-ordinating Uganda�s participation in joint
management of trans-boundary water resources � to increase releases to
1,000 cubic metres to manage the power crisis.

The 1,000 cubic metres can generate up to 180MW, which combined with
emergency diesel power can only meet Uganda�s off peak demand, which
stands at 302MW. In May, peak demand was 443MW, meaning available
capacity still falls short by some 141MW.

Prior to the Thursday meeting, Eskom had applied for an extension to
continue to release 1,000 cubic metres until Bujagali�s first 50MW
unit comes on stream in November. But DWRM had rejected the request.
In a letter dated September 2, the Directorate had ordered Eskom to
revert to releases of 700 cubic metres by September 10 at the
Nalubaale and Kiira power stations to protect other uses.

�We rejected their renewal because all other water uses have to be
protected,� said Dr Callist Tindimugaya, Water Resources Regulation
Commissioner, Directorate of Water and Environment, at the Ministry
before the meeting.

�We shall continuously monitor and review that position but as of now,
even with the increased rainfall, the water levels have not gone up,�
said Dr Tindimugaya.

However, Ms Muloni insisted: �We shall not have any more loadshedding
than we already have.�

In limiting the water releases, the Directorate was adhering to the
tripartite policy of the East African states of Uganda, Kenya,
Tanzania that share Lake Victoria on the usage of water, and
particularly on releases for use in electricity generation.

Excessive releases from the Nalubaale and Kiira dams cause a drop in
the water levels of Lake Victoria, causing its shoreline to recede and
affecting about a third of the total population of Kenya, Uganda and
Tanzania, who rely on Lake Victoria. Economic activities such as
production of safe water for human consumption and shipping on the
lake suffer as a result.

"If we do not control the releases, ships may not be able to reach the
shores, fish breeding grounds will be disturbed, taps may run dry as
pumps would be pumping air instead of water,� said Dr Tindimugaya.

As an upstream partner, Uganda has a duty to ensure that the volume of
water released remains consistent with that which would have occurred
under natural pre-Nalubaale conditions, to maintain the levels in
downstream discharges.

However, about 10 years ago, the situation became so bad that Lake
Victoria levels dropped by about 1.5 metres, bringing the lake to its
shallowest levels since 1951. On the other hand, the excess releases
caused chaos downstream as users were confronted with greater volumes
than normal.

Diesel generation currently accounts for 46 per cent of Uganda�s
energy mix but, at $235 million, it accounts for 85 per cent of total
energy cost.

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