Uganda Lacking Advanced Technology to Avert Vandalism of Electricity Infrastructure

The Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited – UETCL, is yet to acquire technologies to help the country solve the escalating vandalism of electricity infrastructure.

UETCL is a state-owned enterprise whose primary purpose is to make bulk electricity purchases and transmit the electricity along high-voltage wires to local and foreign distribution points. But vandals have compromised power reliability and increased capital expenditure on both completed and ongoing investments.

Currently, UETCL purchases and evacuates electricity on its high voltage 132kiloVolt lines from major power plants which include among others; Kiira Power Station (200MW); 180MW Nalubaale (Owen Falls Dam) all in Jinja District, and Isimba Hydro Power Plant (183MW) in Kamuli to major grid substation in Mukono, Kawanda and Lugogo in Kampala.

But between last month and December vandals destroyed four power towers which caused an hour-long national blackout. Theft of electric power towers also affected parts of Northern Tanzania, Rwanda, and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo–DRC.

Key electricity infrastructure materials targeted by the vandals include; pylon angle bars, wires/conductors, transformers, transformer oils, poles, and underground cables among others which comprises power reliability and grid security resulting in blackouts.

Lawrence Kimbowa, UETCL’s Acting Principal Public Relations Officer disclosed that a total of 52 high voltage electricity pylons were destroyed by the vandals and now require over 37 billion Shillings to replace. Building a single pylon or tower costs approximately 365 million Shillings.

Kimbowa says that in order to ensure an efficient energy supply, UETCL currently uses the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition – SCADA at its Control Centre based in Lugogo. The system only monitors faults along power transmission and distribution lines as well as grid substations to cause alerts to the operations and maintenance team but not against vandals.

Kimbowa explained that vandals loosen nuts that support angle bars on the power towers, and in the event of melted nuts, they cut off the angle bars using axe saws to compromise the strength of the entire tower which consequently affects the grid security to cause an outage or unreliably power supply.

According to Jonan Kiiza, the Senior Corporate Affairs Manager at the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited – UEDCL, if Uganda like developed countries adopts advanced technology to deter vandals, such a decision will be burdensome to consumers in terms of high tariffs.

UEDC is another parastatal company that distributes electric power to domestic and commercial end-users at below 33kV. As of October 2021, the company had recorded over 35 cases of vandalism on its distribution networks across the country.

Equally affected by vandalism is the electricity distributor, Umeme, whose Head of Communications, Peter Kaujju says that the company incurred 26 billion Shillings in 2021 to replace vandalized lines and transformers across the country.

Energy sector players think the Government should ensure more people are connected or access power on the national grid to promote vigilance against vandals. They believe the population can get more involved in reporting vandals if they benefit from the electricity supply and distribution networks.

As of June 2022, data by the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), a government agency that regulates, licenses, and supervises the generation, transmission, distribution, sale, export, and importation of electrical energy in Uganda indicated that only 1.7 million out of the eight million Ugandan households are connected to the national electricity grid.

While Parliament recently passed the Electricity (Amendment) Act, 2022, whose Section 85(3) prescribes a 15-year jail term or fine of 100,000 currency points (nearly two billion Shillings) or both for any person convicted of theft or vandalism of electric materials, the fangs of the law is yet to bite.

Annual estimates from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development indicate that about Two Billion Shillings are spent to replace vandalized or stolen electricity assets.

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