HIGH-POWER TARIFFS, AN ENEMY TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF UGANDA
By Guest Writer
OPINION: For over two decades, the Government of Uganda has invested trillions of dollars in the energy sector with the aim of increasing clean, affordable, and reliable energy access to the people.
Currently, the total installed capacity stands at 1346.6 megawatts, with hydropower contributing the highest installed capacity of 1,072.9 MW, constituting 79.7% of the total capacity.
Despite these energy project investments, Uganda has remained one of the countries with the lowest electrification rates in Africa, primarily due to an overreliance on biomass sources in the energy mix, constrained electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure, limited access to off-grid solutions, and limited productive use of energy, among others.
According to the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), only 1.7 million out of the 8.5 million Ugandan households are connected to the national electricity grid. This means that most households don’t have access to electricity, and even those that do are not using it for cooking or heating due to high power tariffs, but rather depend on the non-sustainable use of biomass energy, especially wood fuels, using unclean and inefficient methods.
Every day, the media reports about electrocution that happens across the country. For example, the death of three family members that happened in Kasanje village, Wakiso district, resulted from power theft due to electrocution, where people were stealing electricity and wires were hanging that made the culprits use them for drying clothes, not knowing there was electricity in the wires.
It should be noted that most of the deaths resulting from electrocution are not reported by residents due to their fear of the electricity companies coming and arresting the man due to high bills. Most people have resorted to using illegal methods, which have resulted in the deaths of innocent citizens.
Further, Uganda has the lowest electrification rates in the world, bringing electricity to more than 40 million people, and despite the significant efforts over the last 20 years, the rate has remained low at around 24%.
The country has the most people without access to electricity, especially those in remote areas. The unstable power supply and high costs of power supply have limited economic growth in the country.
Due to their inability to access and pay electricity bills, most Ugandans have resorted to stealing power, which has resulted in damages to goods and human lives.
The high costs of electricity and unreliable power supply have limited economic growth in most sectors across the country.
Agriculture is the backbone of Uganda, and the best way to support it is by encouraging farmers to use mechanization to boost their production, but they are limited by high electricity costs.
The country would be the highest and leading producer of food, but due to high power tariffs, agriculture is done seasonally depending on nature because about 10% of the population can only afford electricity on their farms. Cutting electricity tariffs and extending power to remote areas will increase production and boost the people’s income.
High power tariffs and an unstable power supply have also affected the health sector, and this has resulted in some people losing their lives, especially pregnant women who are in labor. For example, some hospitals spend days without power, and this affects the poor since the rich afford private hospitals where standards are high.
In most health centers, especially in villages, service stops at 6 p.m. because there is no electricity to make them work at night, and this has limited the health services offered to people. Reducing the costs of electricity and embracing energy transition will save the lives of people in the healthy sector.
Schools have also been affected, especially rural schools where there is no power and those that can access power can’t afford to pay bills. This has limited and affected the performance of rural students compared to students in urban schools.
Most of the rural students study during the day and go home, where there is no power to support their reading at night. In my former primary schools, we have power lines running alongside the road, but the school failed to extend electricity to the school premises due to high wiring costs, and this has left the school in a poor performing state.
Reducing costs on power connections will allow schools to access power and improve the education system.
The business sector has also been affected. Since most businesses run on power, such as those that deal in beverages, perishables, and saloons, among others, the absence of power has limited the growth of the business sector.
Further, investors are complaining every day about high electricity bills. Reduced power costs will enable businessmen to succeed and pay taxes on time, boosting the economy.
As a concerned citizen, I urge the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to collaborate with electricity distribution companies to extend power to rural areas at very low cost and reduce electricity bills so that all Ugandans can afford and use electricity.
The Energy Ministry should also negotiate with power distribution companies, especially solar companies, to provide solar at a reduced rate so that all people can access clean energy.
The government should prioritize energy transition with an emphasis on off-grid solar, which is sustainable compared to huge investment in electricity power dams that have resulted in increased costs of deemed power.
Further, the government should divert investments in oil and gas to renewable energy to protect the planet from emissions from oil projects.
Finally, in July 2022, the president, who has previously been a champion for oil and gas exploitation, publicly stated that the future belongs to renewable energy.
Faced with citizen demands that the government take action to reduce the high fuel costs that were experienced after the Russia-Ukraine war started, the president noted that it is best that Uganda think beyond oil and gas while promoting electric mobility. His public statements present an opportunity to increase public discourse on the need for a just energy transition.
His remarks also stand to make Ugandan policymakers more amenable to putting in place policies that promote renewable energy in the country.
The author is Gerald Barekye, Research Associate Afiego.
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