Erratic Power Supply in West Nile: Nyagak Power Dam Misses Third Completion Deadline

by Christopher Kiiza
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The hopes of the people of West Nile sub region of Northern Uganda to have stable power supply after years of power unreliability seem to have been shuttered after the Nyagak III hydro power plant missed the third deadline for completion.

The construction of Nyagak III hydro power project, located in Paidha Sub-County, Zombo District began in 2019, and was expected to be completed within 33 months (September 2022). 

However, the multi-billion mini dam project has suffered multiple setbacks.

In 2019, works at Nyagak were halted following a compensation dispute after Paidha chiefdom demanded 90 Million Shillings from the Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL) to relocate its cultural heritage from the construction site.

In April last year, the construction works of the Nyagak III hydro-power dam were threatened by heavy rains leading to the suspension of excavation works of the powerhouse for the dam by the contractor.

The heavy rains characterized by thunderstorms and lightnings experienced in the region hampered the movement of trucks to the site which slowed the work.

This also compelled the contractor to further push the deadline for compeletion of the project from September 2022 to December 2022.

However, the December 2022 deadline was also missed. The UEGCL then announced that the commercial operations date was extended to March 2023 due to funding constraints, COVID-19 disruptions with many lockdowns in Uganda and India, the manufacturer of turbines, supply chain disruptions due to increase in fuel prices and fuel crisis among others.

The March 2023 deadline was also missed, and government promised that by June 30, 2023, Nyagak III hydro power project would be completed. This would facilitate West Nile connection to the national power grid.

Last month, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa visited the project to assess its progress.

The Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa inspecting the project progress last month.

After the visit, Nankabirwa said that due to funding challenges from the Government, the commissioning of Nyagak III power plant which was expected in 2022 has been extended to September 2023.

The move means that the government has missed three deadlines for the completion of the project by the constructors.

Although the power plant progress stands at 94%, Nankabirwa said the delay to release 28 billion shillings is affecting the completion of the 6.6 megawatt project.

“Despite the fact that we as government are not fulfilling our part of the grant that we are supposed to give, the developer has continued find ways of borrowing money and making sure that work does not stall. So, I want to applaud them for that. I also pledge that I will continue interacting with the Ministry of Finance to make sure that the promise that the President made when he visited West Nile recently to give the remaining money which is about 28 billion shillings is given,” said Nankabirwa.

As a result, she announced that the commissioning of Nyagak III hydro power project has been pushed to September this year.

“So, we are targeting September 2023. That is if the developer receives the money from government (the 28 billion shillings),” she said.

Members of Parliament from West Nile sub region expressed their disappointment at government over the matter.

West Nile is the only region in the entire country that is not connected to the national power grid. As a result, the region has overtime experience loadshedding. The Nyagak III hydro power plant is expected to solve the challenge of erratic power supply in West Nile sub region, and facilitate the region’s connection to the national grid.

ERRATIC POWER SUPLLY IN WEST NILE

West Nile sub region has never been connected to the national power grid since 2003, following the unbundling of the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB).

The region is made of a number of districts that include; Adjumani, Arua City, Arua District, Koboko, Maracha, Terego, Madi-Okollo, Moyo, Nebbi, Pakwach, Terego, Yumbe and Zombo.

In 2003, after the unbundling of UEB, Government granted a concession agreement to the West Nile Rural Electrification Company (WENRECo) to generate, distribute and sell electricity in West Nile for 20 years.

Another company, Electromaxx was later introduced to supplement power generation in the region.

Electromaxx runs Euata thermal plant in Vurra Constituency in Arua district.

Euata thermal plant was set up to have a generation capacity of 8.3 megawatts. 

Electromaxx came to West Nile in 2019 to supplement Nyagak 1 hydropower plant constructed by WENRECo in 2006 to produce 3.5 megawatts of electricity.

The region, however, has experienced erratic power supply since 2003.

Nyagak III hydro power dam has missed three completion deadlines.

The combination of 8.3 megawatts generated by Electromaxx’s Euata thermal plant and the 3.5 megawatts generated by Nyagak 1 hydropower plant should have the ability to supply enough and reliable power to West Nile sub region.

During the Parliamentary Sitting of August 11, 2022, the MP for Ora County, Zombo District, Hon. Biyika Lawrence Songa on behalf of the Members of Parliament from West Nile Subregion presented a Motion for a resolution of Parliament to urgently address the electricity supply challenges in West Nile Sub-region.

The MPs present in the House unanimously seconded the motion, and debated in its favour, calling on government to resolve the power challenges in the West Nile region.

Parliament adopted the resolution, and the Speaker directed the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources to investigate circumstances surrounding the delay in the electrification of West Nile Sub-region and report back to the House.

In the meetings held with key staleholders in West Nile, the committee was informed that WENRECo took over the operations and infrastructure originally owned and operated by the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB), in a Concessional Agreernent that became operational in 2003.

WENRECo inherited a generating facility that was producing 1.5 megawatts of electricity from heavy fuel oils and serving Iess than 1000 customers for approximately 4 hours a day.

The Committed was also informed that WENRECo decommissioned the generators after the commissioning and coming on board of Nyagak 1 hydro power plant in September 2O12, which has an installed capacity of 3.5 megawatts. Due to the increase in demand, Nyagak I was unable to meet demand in West Nile.

This consequently led Government to enter into an agreement with Electromaxx to install an additional 8.3 megawatt diesel facility (thermal power plant) at Euata in Arua District to complement generation from WENRECo.

The 3.5 megawatts generated by Nyagak 1 hydropower plant and the 8.3 megawatt generated by Electromaxx’s Euata thermal plant would give West Nile an installed capacity of 11.78 megawatts.

It however, came to light that Electromaxx’s Euata thermal plant in Arua district was not generating the 8.3 megawatts it was contracted for.

In its Report back to Parliament, the Committee found out that, although Electro-Maxx had a licensed capacity of 8.3 megawatts, the tested capacity was 6.5 megawatts while the highest ever produced capacity was 3 megawatts.

The Committee informed the House that the peak demand for West Nile is 6 megawatts and suppressed demand is estimated at 5 megawatts. The Committee observed that as per the reported installed capacity from Nyagak 1 and Electro-Maxx, Arua should be having sufficient capacity to meet its current and suppressed demand.

“However, this is not the case as load shedding and outages remain rampant in the region,” the Committee Report reads.

The Committee observed that the total generation for West Nile from the two generators (WENRECO and Electromaxx) for the period 2015 to 2021 ranges from 1.07 megawatts, the lowest value reported in quarter 1 of 2019, to the highest value of 3.41 megawatts reported in quarter 4 of 2021.

The Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa inspecting the project progress last month.

The Committee further observed that the total actual production for both facilities is below the installed capacity in West Nile of 11.78 megawatts and is below the total peak demand of 6 megawatts for the region.

“Both facilities are operating way below their installed capacity. The highest generation for the WENRECo facility is recorded in Quarter 3 of 2021 as 2.55 megawatts while the lowest is 1.07 megawatts in quarter 1 of 2O19. This is below the installed capacity of Nyagak 1 of 3.5 megawatts. On the other hand, the highest generation for the Electromaxx facility is recorded in Quarter 4 of 2021 as 1.09 megawatts while the lowest is 0.27 megawatts in quarter 2 of 2020. This is also below the installed capacity of Electromaxx of 8.28 megawatts,” the Committee Report reads. 

Electromaxx blamed this on shortage of fuel supply to run Euata thermal plant. The fuel storage, it said, was partly caused by the Russia – Ukraine war. 

It was also discovered that another cause of erratic power supply in the region was the erratic Nyagak river whose water levels are inconsistent due fluctuating weather partners.

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