The completion date for Karuma Dam — Uganda’s flagship $1.7 billion hydropower project — has been pushed to June 22, 2022 following routine inspection on June 25.
The Uganda Electricity Generation Company Ltd (UEGCL) said works on the 600MW dam on the River Nile in Kiryandongo were 98.8 percent complete, but the commissioning has been pushed by several months due to small but significant outstanding works.
“The remaining works may look small, but are enormous in terms of what needs to be rectified,” UEGCL board chairperson Proscovia Njuki told The EastAfrican.
Njuki was referring to remedial works that need to be done after UEGCL — the government agency that is in charge of the project — tasked the contractor with addressing the defects in the dam, which if not addressed, will compromise the plant’s safety, reliability and operation.
They include electro-mechanical works, which had quality issues such as electric and cabling defects that did not meet the specifications in the Engineer’s Statement of Requirements (ESR).
“We are impressed that the contractor has made overall progress and has also started working on the remedial works,” said Harrison Mutikanga, UEGCL’s chief executive officer.
However, UEGCL also raised concerns that the contractor, Chinese firm Sinohydro Corporation, should increase manpower to fix the defects, speed up the works and ensure the project is completed within the 12 months extension.
Initially, the project was to be commissioned in December 2019, but it missed the target date, and an extension of 12 months was granted, which the contractor again failed to meet in December last year after UEGCL raised concerns about quality issues and more defects.
Fred Muhumuza, an economist, said the government, which funded 15 percent of the project’s cost, while 85 percent is funded by the Exim Bank of China, is in no hurry to commission Karuma because the country currently has a surplus of electricity.
Amid the delays, Dr Muhumuza said the Karuma contractor is feeling the pinch of several postponements, which have seen the project whose construction period was initially five years, now running into eight years, as the government lays blame for the delays on Sinohydro.
Muhumuza added that without creating sufficient demand and consumption for power, the 600MW that will be generated from Karuma will be excess capacity, moreover at a time when consumers are going for cheaper and more available off grid energy options such as solar.
According to the latest National Household Survey 2019/2020 released in June, Uganda faces a hydropower dilemma as generation capacity increases, yet more people are opting for solar power as opposed to hydro and grid connections.
The survey said solar connections increased from 18 percent in 2017 to 38 percent in June 2020, while during the same period, grid connections dropped to 19 percent last year, down from 22 percent three years back.
Meanwhile, only two of the three power transmission lines that needed to be upgraded to evacuate the high voltage electricity from Karuma are complete, with a third line expected to be completed later this year, officials said.