Kampala awaits Isimba power project verdict

Monday April 09 2018

Isimba hydropower project in Uganda. A panel of experts is reviewing the safety, structural and operational integrity of the $567.7 million hydropower dam. FILE PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG


Uganda is awaiting the independent panel of experts’ final assessment of the construction of the Isimba hydropower project that is expected to feed 183MW onto the national grid.

A series of high profile engineering and design errors have brought the supervision of the project into question.

However, on April 2, the seven-man panel which started the sixth review of the project — also expected to be the last since April 2016 — said there was “good progress” because the contractor and the supervising consultant have made “lots of improvements based on our previous recommendations” that were made in November 2017.

But the panel added that it was too early to tell whether there were new issues that could compromise the safety, structural and operational integrity of the $567.7 million hydropower dam.

“We cannot draw conclusions at this point until we conclude our review and make recommendations,” said the chairman Charles Hutton from the United States.

A member of the panel, Ljiljana Spasic-Gril, said that for a project that has been error-prone, there has been good progress on remedying the issues that the panel discovered on its last site visit in November last year. These included concrete design and the quality of hydro mechanical equipment.


“As a panel, we are keen that all the risk that might be received in the next 15 years is thought of now and addressed,” said Spasic-Gril, whose role on the panel is risk assessment of the dam safety during construction and operation phases.

The independent panel of experts was formed by the government in April 2016 to guard against lax supervision and construction, in order to ensure quality control in respect of Isimba HPP and the 51km interconnection transmission line from the site to Bujagali.

This way, Uganda gets value for money in Isimba as the assessments ensure that international standards of design, risk evaluation and impact assessment are met by the contractor China International Water and Electric Corporation to build a fit for purpose facility.

Inadequate quality assurance at Isimba has previously led to cracks that caused a leakage, leading to flooding in the powerhouse and destroying the coffer dam.

The chief executive of Uganda Electricity Generation Company Ltd (UEGCL) Dr Harrison Mutikanga, said Isimba is still on course to come online in August, while Karuma is slated for December 2018 — the deadlines set when construction started.

However, Karuma is still encumbered by delayed right of way for the transmission lines to evacuate the power from dam.

In his latest report, the Auditor General John Muwanga has faulted the Isimba contractor and especially Energy Infratech — the former supervising consultant at Isimba — noting that the Indian firm lacked capacity and experienced personnel to supervise the works.

Mr Muwanga further said this had resulted in poor concrete quality on site, cracking, cold joints, honey combing and failed concrete repairs which could potentially lead to high maintenance costs for the project in future.

The quality control issues notwithstanding, UEGCL officials said that two out of the four generating units of Isimba HPP are on schedule to start generating power.

“The first two units are on time. The rest should come on line by December if the weather is good,” said Isimba project manager Chad Akita.