Parliament Questions Energy Minister on Isimba Dam Shutdown

The Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa presenting a statement to parliament.

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The Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa has told parliament that testing of the 183-Megawatts Isimba Hydropower Plant commenced today, in a bid to restore power production.

Nankabirwa on Thursday presented a statement to parliament on the emergency total shutdown of Isimba and the move by the government to import 60 megawatts from Kenya.

On Monday last week, the 183-Megawatts Isimba Dam, located in Kayunga district flooded and it was temporarily shut down leading to load-shedding in different parts of the country that is to go on for three weeks, according to the Ministry of Energy.

According to Minister Nankabirwa, the shutdown was due to the flow of water into the powerhouse that triggered a dam safety procedure to ensure safety of staff and protection of equipment.

“The flow of water into the powerhouse arose from an operational challenge. Consequently, dam safety procedures were automatically triggered to ensure the safety of staff, protection of equipment and prevention of potential dam failure. The Powerhouse was dewatered using the station drainage pumps and it took about 10 hours to remove all the water and create a safe working environment,” she told MPs.

She added that among measures taken by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) to ensure continuity of electricity supply was the initial importation of 60 megawatts from Kenya into order to stabilize the electricity grid.

“Uganda has had power trade arrangements with Kenya since 1960s, these arrangements normally come in handy whenever we have challenges similar to what we are experiencing with Isimba Hydro Power Plant that affect grid stability,” Nankabirwa explained.

Parliament also learnt that as of Thursday 18th, the amount of power being imported from Kenya had gone down to less than 30 megawatts and that this is to continue reducing.

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Nankabirwa further revealed that the other measures that were taken immediately were the electricity dispatch of up to 50 megawatts from the Namanve thermal power plant, dispatch of 20 megawatts from the Kakira Sugar Power Plant, optimization of the generation capacity of available power plants across the country and the implementation of load shedding to balance power demand and supply and ensure that grid stability is achieved and sustained.

Regarding the question of Uganda having excess power and why it has resorted to import, Nankabirwa said that the country’s installed power generation capacity is 1378.1 megawatts, indicating excess generation relative to the country’s peak system demand of about 900 megawatts. This includes 50 megawatts of power export to Kenya.

She however said that the available generation capacity, also referred to as firm capacity from the different generation plans keeps changing on a day-to-day basis.

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The Minister added that power from some of the plants is not fully evacuated due to lack of transmission and distribution infrastructure which government seeks to address through increased investment in the sector.She told MPs that Uganda has no excess power parse since it is generated but not uploaded on the national grid for transmission due to the absence of infrastructure.

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Parliament learnt that during this week starting Monday 15th August, the available firm capacity is about 640 megawatts and that the variance is a result of low hydrology, variability of the grid-connected solar power plants routine maintenance for 1 unit of 50 megawatts at Bujagali, and the current outage at Isimba.

“It is important to note that without major breakdowns on the system like loss of a major generation facility as experienced with Isimba, Uganda’s current total generation capacity is sufficient to meet the current electricity demand needs,” Nankabirwa said.

She assured parliament that appropriate measures are being undertaken by Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL) to restore power production at Isimba and that the costs associated with all the required remedial works are still under assessment. She said that it is expected that this will be accommodated within the operation and maintenance budget for the plant as detailed investigations into the matter continue.

Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa said that it was important for the Ministry to also address the country on the electricity consumable capacity of the country compared to the generation and installed capacity.

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Tayebwa also questioned why the Ministry never foresaw the rain patterns and the possibility of flooding.

“This is a dam we commissioned not more than two years ago, we know the rain patterns, so can we remedy it?” Tayebwa asked.

Alex Byarugaba, the Isingiro South MP said that while he chaired the Natural Resources Committee in the Tenth Parliament, they raised several questions about the dam and that their fears are now being born out."

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Eddie Kwizera, the Bukimbiri County MP wondered whether Uganda has the capacity to carry out an investigation into the flooding and how it can be stopped.

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Agnes Atim Apea, Amolatar Woman MP said that there is clearly poor planning for the country’s electricity generation. She wondered why the shutdown of Isimba alone can affect the country severely yet the country appropriates billions every financial year for deemed energy.

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In response, Minister Nankabirwa said that the plant flooded because of the maintenance works and not because of too much rainwater. She said that the Ministry will get the critical cause after the report is fully compiled after the ongoing investigations.

The Deputy Speaker Tayebwa tasked the Minister to present another report to Parliament after three weeks. But Nankabirwa said that she was willing to provide weekly reports to parliament regarding Isimba Dam.

Tayebwa agreed to provide space on the order paper whenever the Minister has a progress report to make and he also tasked parliament’s Natural Resources Committee to carry out oversight on the matter.

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