Uganda’s Karuma hydropower plant nearing completion

Local employees cast concrete for drainage ditch of the Karuma hydropower project under construction in the midwestern Ugandan district of Kiryandongo, Nov. 9, 2020.(Xinhua/Zhang Gaiping)
Local employees cast concrete for drainage ditch of the Karuma hydropower project under construction in the midwestern Ugandan district of Kiryandongo, Nov. 9, 2020.(Xinhua/Zhang Gaiping)

The construction of Uganda’s Karuma Hydro Power Plant has entered the finishing stage despite what seemed to be insurmountable challenges complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Deng Changyi, project manager of Sinohydro Corporation Ltd., the construction contractor, told Xinhua in a recent visit that works at the power plant reaches about 98 percent completion. When completed, the power plant will be the largest power-generating installation in Uganda.

The 600 megawatts (MW) power plant is constructed both on the surface and underground, below River Nile, here in the midwestern Ugandan district of Kiryandongo. Most of the physical and installation works are finished and workers are now engaged in finishing works like painting, cleaning up in the tunnels and building roads on the surface.

Deng said Sinohydro has applied to the government to approve the wet commissioning of turbine 1-3. Dry testing of turbine 4-6 is ongoing. Each unit is designed to produce 100MW.

He said Sinohydro is determined to handover a high quality power plant despite the challenges it has faced during the construction stage.

The closure of Uganda’s borders and Entebbe International Airport in March in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19, greatly affected the progress of the project, according to Deng.

Chinese engineering personnel could not fly into the country to carry on with the work and also delivery of essential equipment was delayed.

Uganda opened its airspace on Oct. 1 with strict adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures. Although the borders remained opened to cargo transport, truck drivers were also subject to strict adherence of COVID-19 prevention measures, which caused some delays, according to Sinohydro.

At the main entrance of the construction site, all entrants are subject to temperature screening, hand sanitizing and the vehicles also sanitized. The same procedure is repeated at several entry points and everyone must wear a face mask.

Sinohydro is also in charge of the Karuma Interconnection Project, which will evacuate power from the plant. There are three transmission lines that will be leaving the power plant heading to different directions.

According to Sinohydro’s progress report, overall work has reached 94.5 percent completion. Most of the tower erection and stringing works have been done, except in a few places where there has been a challenge of accessing the way. This, according to Sinohydro has led to delays in completing the works.

Government, according to Sinohydro is charged with acquiring land and handing it over to the contractor to continue with the works.

Karuma Hydro Power Plant is one of Uganda’s flagship projects financed by the Export Import Bank (EXIM) of China. The EXIM bank is financing 85 percent of the project while the rest in funded by the Ugandan government. The cost of the project is about 1.7 billion U.S. dollars.

The plant, according to experts, is critical in addressing the country’s increasing electricity demand in efforts to fast track industrialization. Inadequate power supply is one of the key bottlenecks to fast tracking Uganda’s economic development, according to economists.

According to the government, Karuma will generate electricity in a phased manner, starting with the already completed turbines until the final turbine, leading to an installed capacity of 600 MW.

Karuma is the second power plant financed by China after the 183 MW-Isimba Hydropower Plant, which was commissioned last year. The commissioning of the 566-million-dollar Isimba contributed to the increase of the total power generated in the country to 1,176.6 MW from 953.8 MW, according to government figures.

Besides construction Karuma, Sinohydro has also undertaken three corporate social responsibility projects, each amounting to 1.5 million dollars. The projects include the construction of two health centers and a primary school. These projects, according to Sinohydro’s progress report, will be completed before the end of May 2021.