The Karuma hydropower project is on schedule to achieve commercial operations by September this year after the first two units were synchronised on the national grid.
The 600MW project, which will be the largest power project in Uganda when it is fully commissioned, has already had two units – one and four – each with 100MW connected to the national grid, 10 years after construction started. Unit three has also been tested and is expected to be synchronised to the national grid soon.
There are six units at Karuma, each with an installed capacity of 100MW. Dr Badru Kiggundu, the chairman of the Project Steering Committee for Karuma and Isimba Hydro Power projects, inspected works at Karuma, where he acknowledged the progress being undertaken.
The Karuma hydropower project has missed at least three deadlines for the start of commercial operations, and we have been told that pressure had began mounting on Sinohydro, the Chinese company undertaking works, over the delays.
Karuma hydropower project has faced challenges of shoddy works where the contractor, Sinohydro, has been accused of violating the agreed bills of quantities.
The government has placed a lot of hope in Karuma lowering electricity tariffs in the economy. Karuma is expected to charge five US cents per unit. But the challenges that Uganda has had in getting Karuma online are forcing the government to change its strategy on such large power projects.
The delays over the commissioning of Karuma, and earlier the 183MW Isimba HPP, have offered the government enough proof that the build-and-transfer model that was used for these two flagship projects needed a review.
Uganda government officials had numerous run-ins with Chinese contractors over the poor quality of work. Karuma is expected to be the last such project the government will use the build-and-transfer model.
The experience from Karuma, we have been told, has convinced the government to seek alternative sources of funding for its power projects for it to have some control over the quality of work.