Uganda allows Eskom to take up more water for hydropower
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.