Cities play a very important role in shaping the livelihoods of many people as more than half of the global population lives in urban centres.
Every city needs stable and reliable electricity to feed its ever-growing industrial, commercial and domestic needs. Mbale City, a home to 5 million people, is not any different.
Mbale and Elgon subregion’s electricity demand averages 20MW, but given the recent elevation to City status, the Government’s push for industrialization and the establishment of the Mbale Industrial Park, demand for power is expected to surge.
For this reason, power distributor Umeme has invested $15.2m (about Ugx55.7b) into two big power projects to boost electricity supply quality and reliability in the Mbale City and the Elgon subregion.
The Umeme Elgon subregion covers Mbale City, Bulambuli, Manafwa, Bubulo, Butaleja, Kibuku, Pallisa, Bukedea, Kumi, Soroti and Kapchorwa.
The two projects are the $9.23m (about Ugx34b) Siti 2 Project and the $5.99m (about Uugx22b) Mbale Industrial Park Project. Once complete, the two projects will grow Mbale’s electricity supply from the current 20MW to 61MW, a 205% growth.
“As Mbale City is growing, we also want to grow with them by investing in the network to provide reliable power but also meet the increasing demand,” Selestino Babungi, Umeme’s Managing Director explains.
The Siti 2 Project includes a 125-kilometre 33kV single circuit double poles line, evacuating power from the 16.5MW Siti 2 Hydro Power Project on River Siti in Bukwo District to Umeme’s sub-station in Mbale.
The substation is also being expanded with a new switching station and plant house. Umeme is also installing capacitor banks to stabilise power especially for industrial and commercial production.
The Mbale Industrial Park Project consists of a 75km power line, bringing up to 25MW from Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited’s (UETCL) substation in Tororo to the Mbale Industrial Park. Umeme is also building 10km of integration distribution lines within the park to cater for this supply. To stabilise the power for industrial purposes, Umeme is also constructing a switching station and plant house at the Industrial Park.
“The Mbale projects are one of our major investments for 2020 in support of Government’s efforts to attract Industries and jobs in the eastern region. Having been granted City status, we expect demand in Mbale City and the surrounding areas to grow considerably fast. The industrial park alone is expected to consume 220MW of power at full capacity. In addition to the industrial park, there is a cement factory in the pipeline in Mbale,” Babungi says.
Sitting on 619 acres, the Mbale Industrial Park, is expected to attract between 60-80 factories, which at peak will consume up to 220MW of power.
Eight factories have already been built in the Park, with the four active ones, using up to 3MW of power, employing 1,500 Ugandans.
“Industrial parks are the future of industrialisation in Uganda because they guarantee a lower cost of production per unit. The Mbale Industrial park particularly because of its proximity to the Kenyan border and subsequently the Mombasa Port, is strategic for both import substitution and export-based factories,” Babungi said.
“We believe this line will be important given the country’s strategy of promoting industrial parks and industrialisation to create jobs,” Babungi adds.
The Mbale investment is part of Umeme’s 2020 $83.3m (about Ugx310b) investment plan to increase the capacity of the grid, system reliability, loss reduction and customer connections
In addition, since 2016, Umeme rolled out “Operation Fagiya” to address the rampant power theft, system interference that led to outages and unfortunate fatal accidents related to electricity.
Paul Ssempiira, the Umeme Mbale Operations Manager, observes that as a result of these interventions, the performance of seven out of 10 feeders has improved significantly. “The total unsold energy has also reduced from 17 million kilowatt hours (kWh) to 10m kwh,” Ssempiira says.
Paul noted that through community out reaches, Umeme was able to bring down energy losses in the region from 57% to 33%. Ssempiira said this represented a saving of Shs1.3 billion per month in would be lost revenue.
The customer base has also increased from 27,967 in 2016 to 61,045 as at the end of July 2020 and energy sales from a monthly average of 4 million kWh to 5.5 mmillion kWh in 2020. All domestic customers will be converted to pre-paid metering across the country by the end of the year.
“We are investing to support all categories of customers in the region right from domestic to industrial including millers where we have upgraded the conductor size injected additional transformers on Mbale Industrial Feeder,” Ssempiira adds.
*Umeme has set up two additional service centres in Pallisa and Sironko in order to take services closer to the people. Two more such centres are planned for Kumi and Kapchorwa in 2021. In the same spirit, we have spread technical resources in Bubulo, Kumi, Pallisa, Sironko, Soroti, and Kapchorwa to ensure quick identification and resolution of network faults.