The Bujagali hydroelectric power plant has reportedly commenced the testing phase with the first installed 50 MW turbine, due to go into production in November, according to reliable sources.
The plant, worth over 860 million US Dollars, was initiated by the IPS Kenya, itself part of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, in short AKFED.
Long suffering electricity users, hotels, manufacturers, the business community at large and of course households across the country have been waiting for this moment with bated breath, and often in darkness at night, as the Ugandan government failed to pay up contractually agreed subsidies to independent thermal power plant operators, causing several of them to reduce production or shut down altogether. The has in recent months caused widespread electricity rationing, not helped by another much critizised decision to phase out diesel propelled plants over cost considerations, instead of awaiting the coming on line of Bujagali. Once in production the new hydro electric power plant will progressively add the remaining turbines, with the second on in place by December and the fifth unit by about April 2012. When in full production Bujagali is expected to feed 250 MW into the national grid at which time power rationing should be a thing of the past. In yet another twist however was it learned that tariffs might not be reduced when the cheaper electricity becomes available, as statements have been attributed to government sources that the savings would be used to recover the substantial subsidies paid out already, or still due to be paid out, which if true would amount to a broken promise though not unexpected considering that the coffers of government are quite empty.
The opening of Bujagali has also brought changes to the adventure tourism activities along the upper Nile valley. Rafting has shifted to a starting point below the power plant, as much of the upstream rapids, including the Bujagali Falls proper are now fully or partly submerged, creating a mini lake between the dam of the power station all the way to below the Nile Porch and the Nile River Explorers base camp. However, with these rather inevitable developments new opportunities have arisen and additional tourism activities like house boating or even waterskiing can now be introduced, though the rafting fraternity will still remember some of the biggies they have now lost as they take their adrenalin junkies down the river.
Meanwhile have sections of the business community started to demand that government make public the progress on the newly planned Karuma Falls power plant, which in a few year’s time should bring another 600 MW on line, but for which information of late has become too little for comfort, causing fears of delays which in a few year’s time could result in more electricity rationing, should Karuma not be ready when the gains made through the commissioning of Bujagali have been absorbed by increased use of electricity in the country.