Minister Nankabirwa, NEMA Boss Disagree on West Nile Power Crisis

The Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Executive Director, Dr Barirega Akankwasha, have disagreed over water levels at River Nyagak in West Nile.

The two government officials were on Tuesday, 23 August 2022 appearing before the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources that was charged by the House with the responsibility of ascertaining the causes of erratic power supply in West Nile.

The region which is yet to be connected to the national power grid, is served by electricity from the 3.5MW Nyagak I Hydropower Plant operated by West Nile Rural Electrification Company Limited (WENRECO) and the 8MW thermal generators operated by ELECTROMAXX Uganda Limited.

Minister Nankabirwa told the committee that the erratic power supply in West Nile is partly caused by fluctuating water levels of River Nyagak in Zombo district, which she said forces the power plant to generate power as low as 1MW especially during dry season against the peak demand of 6MW.

“World over, hydrology affects generation of power. You cannot exactly base on the exact amount of water that you will have at any given period because nature is nature and anything can affect the volumes of water…the speed at which we are experiencing climate change is very high,” Nankabirwa said.

However, Dr Barirega, disagreed with the minister saying, water levels at the river are over and above the required levels to generate surplus power.

“For Nyagak I and II, we conducted a full environmental and social impact assessment. The flow analysis was conducted and we confirmed that the water flow, quality and hydrology of the river and water availability for power generation are okay to allow hydropower generation with minimum impacts on the environment,” Dr Barirega Akankwasah said.

“From our current monitoring, the river flow at the moment is averaging at 8.1cubic metres per second as of July 2022 which is way beyond the maximum requirement of the dam set at six cubic metres per second. So the river flow has no problem according to our assessment,” he added.

However, he warned that the water levels could be affected if West Nile experiences unforeseeable long droughts in the future.

Despite the disagreement, Nankabirwa urged NEMA to continue conducting routine assessment of water levels on Nyagak and other hydropower plants and stop relying on previous results which she says could be misleading.

“This is a wakeup call for us to keep on checking the effect of climate change even with other hydropower plants so that the country is prepared for the worst,” she said.

In order to improve power supply in West Nile, Nankabirwa said that the energy ministry has commenced arrangements with ELECTROMAXX to remove fuel supply from the scope of contractual arrangements to another service provider who will ensure stable fuel supply to the thermal plant.

As a long term measure, Nankabirwa said that transmission projects to connect West Nile on the national grid are in progress and government expects to fully have it connected by March 2023.

Fort Portal Municipality MP, Alex Ruhunda said government has no excuse for failing to raise resources amounting to Shs22 billion in order to restore power for the people of West Nile.

The committee chairperson, Dr Emmanuel Otaala, proposed a meeting with the Minister of Finance, Minister of Energy in order to resolve the power crisis.

Moses Kayigwa