Rusumo project set to ease power blues

A SATELLITE photo showing River Kagera and the point where the regional hydro power generating plant will be built. The power project will change the lives of people in Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, thanks to a cooperation under the Nile Basin Initiative.


ALTHOUGH it took virtually half a century, the World Bank funded regional Rusumo Falls Hydro-Electric Project implemented on the Kagera River in Tanzania is proving a “game changer” providing solution in the Nile region energy security crisis.

The Project which commenced at the Rusumo site in Ngara District Kagera Region last month, is projected to bring electricity to 520,000 Burundians, 467,000 Rwandese and 159,000 Tanzanians, according to Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) document.

“We had no access to electricity for lighting and other energy-related needs. Instead, we have to rely on kerosene lamps and other energy sources that are more expensive and insufficient,” Nyakiziba villager Ms Agnes Rwekaza says.

The villages (Buneko, Kashinza, Nyakiziba, Marukolazo and Ntobeye) around the Rusumo Hydroelectric project in Tanzania have never seen electricity neither electric poles. The same has been to their neighbours in Rwanda and Burundi.

They are now trying solar power, yet, it had not satisfied the demand for energy to improve social service and empower dwellers. In this villages firewood is their main source of power.

Hence, putting water sources on danger due to excessive felling of trees. But after a long attempt, finally the WB approved Us$340 million funding to construct a power generation plant in Ngara.

In addition, African Development Bank (AfDB) agreed to release about US$121million in funding of transmission lines to connect the power plant to the national grids in Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.

Historically, the project was proposed in 1974. Political instability, lack of a mechanism to coordinate a mediumsized trans-boundary project and conflicts between countries had greatly interrupted implementation of the multipurpose project.

Observers including the World Bank suggest it had become a key developmental challenge. Tanzania’s Energy and Minerals Minister gracing a ground-breaking ceremony of the 80MW Rusumo falls hydro power said: “there should be no further interference in the project.”

Adding: “Most of the delays were unnecessary and it’s high time that government officials understood the need to fast-track development to the villages by helping supply reliable and affordable electricity.”

Official figures shows electricity access in Tanzania had rose to 67.5 per cent in 2017 up from 20.5 per cent in 2007. In Rwanda and Burundi, electricity access remains relatively low at 30.9 and 10 per cent respectively.

Implementation of the regional project will add-up 26MW to each member country. “This will help in the attainment of inclusive-social growth, a main aspiration of the African Union Vision 2063 and the UN global Sustainable Development Goals,” Mr Michael James an independent economist said.

Ntobeye villager, Mr Shaabani Ntabindi told ‘Daily News’ “Health services are equally poor here. There is no proper medical care due to lack of electricity ... expectant mothers have to plan a month ahead of their delivery dates.”

“This has forced women to deliver at home and at poor supervision. In turn, they risk lives of a mother and the unborn child.” Mr Ntabindi and other villagers are hopeful the project will be a game-changer in their lives.

They anticipate the electricity will help power their life once again. “We have been in total darkness. To us TV news is a song whose composer is yet to be born,” Mr Methusela Joseph another villager said.

“We see this as a pregnancy and when delivered we can be able to sing altogether with those in town.” In Tanzania, like other Nile Basin countries is characterized by very low levels of access to electricity, and the lack of a fully connected or reliable regional power grid.

This creates a real barrier to economic development. Analysts consider the ongoing project will help reduce the increasing demand for energy now growing at an average of 10 per cent per year in the region.

Now expected to be completed early 2020, the Rusumo falls hydro power project will enhance socio-economic growth, reinforce regional cooperation, partnership and peace within the Kagera River Basin countries Observers, however say, unless effectively coordinated and managed the power plant remains a complex project.

AfDB’s principal energy trading expert Dr Humphrey Ndwiga, explains that the region has for decades been facing power shortage whilst massive hydropower potentials and other energy sources.

“This project is a sure example of what is possible when neighbouring countries cooperate and engage each other constructively for the benefit of their people,” he said. Research shows Nile Basin has immense, untapped sources of alternative energy to face this energy security challenge, including hydropower, geothermal, natural gas, oil, coal, peat, solar, and wind.

While Hydropower, in particular, has enormous potential, and is attractive due to its long economic life and low cost per unit of energy produced. Prolonged droughts crippling a number of hydropower plants, Tanzania for instance calls for a trans-boundary approaches to agree and develop projects, and to share the costs.

Power generation at hydropower plants had dropped to about 20 per cent from 35 per cent of Tanzania’s electricity needs. Kidatu hydropower station, which is the largest plant with installed capacity of 204 MW followed by Kihansi reservoir (180MW) and Mtera (80MW) on the country’s biggest dam have all been facing low water levels leading to not working in full capacity.

Between October and November 2015, Tanesco—the state-power utility firm—was forced to shut down its main hydropower facility for nearly a month as water level hit below the minimum requirement to run the turbines.

Even though, the Energy Minister Prof Muhongo says “Tanzania as the government we’re slowly abolishing use of this expensive--heavy fuelpowered emergency power generators.”

University of Dar es Salaam climate change expert Ms Agnes Mwakaje is optimistic that a stronger coordination and collaboration among countries “will make a difference.” Conservationist and Environment analysts suggest construction of the Us$30billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal will increase access to reliable and affordable energy. Tanzania, holder of East Africa’s biggest natural-gas reserves (at 57.25tcf) after Mozambique has not reached a final investment decision and was considering to import electricity from Ethiopia to meet its domestic and industrial demands.

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