7 November 2011

Rwanda: Engineer Insists Rukarara Hydro Power Plant Fine

The Ministry of Infrastructure (MINIFRA) has been plunged into panic following Parliament's decision to conduct a probe into the now controversial Rukarara Hydro Power Plant and Mutobo Water Project.

However, as Parliament sets out to carry out its own investigation, an engineer who worked on the Rukarara project says he believes the Hydro Power Plant is sound emphasising no cause for alarm.

Emmanuel Kirenga, who was the head of Hydro Power during the project's implementation phase, told The New Times at the weekend that some machines are deliberately switched off due to varying water levels.

Although the plant is supposed to generate 9.5MW, Kirenga said water from Nyungwe forest which drives the turbines is insufficient to facilitate the plant to generate power at its full capacity at a time.

"All the machines are working. There is no defect with the machines and technically there is no problem" Kirenga said, dismissing MP Esperence Uwimana's claims, last week, that she had visited the plant and found that one of the machines was dysfunctional.

Earlier last week, the Minister of Infrastructure, Albert Nsengiyumva, and the State Minister for Energy and Water, Emma Francoise Isumbingabo, had been questioned over the project.

Appearing before lawmakers, Isumbingabo reported that Rukarara is sound and generating 9 MW into the national grid.

However, Parliament dismissed her explanations and set up an ad hoc committee to come up with its own findings.

Why are the energy projects of interest?

The issue of Rukarara came into the limelight following the decision by the government to privatise the project to Digitech, a local company, to inject more money into it for better output.

Hitherto, its ineffectiveness seems to have placed a huge strain on the country's energy demands. The power project works below the projected capacity and some turbines reportedly broke down.

The plant's production capacity plunged to only 5.2MW in the past week, the MPs said, far below the 9.5MW it is meant to produce.

The concerned ministers were summoned to parliament to provide a full account of the situation. But their explanation still was considered unsatisfactory.

Bottom of the energy crisis?

The aim of the original summons of the ministers to parliament was to find out reasons for continuing failures in the country's energy and water sectors.

In 2004-05, the government sought to find a lasting solution to power shortages but glitches in the energy sector subsisted - leading to fears that there may have been loopholes in the implementation of the power projects.

In 2005, MININFRA, along with Sri Lankan firm Eco Power Global, agreed to conduct a feasibility study, and in 2006, the cabinet approved that the ministry enters into an agreement with the firm for the construction of a power plant and supply line.

A team of experts from the ministries of infrastructure, finance, and justice visited the firm's offices in Sri Lanka and later made a report endorsing that Eco Power had the competence to build the Rukarara project. The agreement to construct the plant was signed in 2006 and was to last for 28 months. The implementation started in 2007.

The Rukarara project budget was US$21 million, a sum large enough to set up a sound power project.

Kirenga insists that the project was worth it as about 26 percent of the project cost has already been recovered ever since the Rukarara power project started generating power into the national power grid 11 months ago.

About the parliamentary ad hoc committee, Kirenga said the legislators were free to conduct their own investigations, but ruled out any breakdown of the machines.

What would happen if the ministry erred?

An outright slip-up could mean a substantial part of the Ministry's budget is rescheduled so that proper accountability is done or it could mean much of outstanding balance to be paid to Eco Power global.

Either way, it would be extremely painful for the contractors and the government. What's more, they are exposed to more scrutiny. There could arise need for a new agreement and it is likely some of the contracts would be cancelled.

There could also be a crisis of confidence in the contractor.

Cancelling contracts is viewed by some as inevitable if the contractor breaches part of the agreement.

The big question would then be; what about other large projects being implemented by the same contractor?

It might be a repeat of the scenario in the construction of the Eastern Province headquarters, which sparked several arrests and led many public servants to lose their jobs.

The minister of Infrastructure told MPs that during negotiations between the ministry and the World Bank, an expert from the latter indicated that Sri Lanka was advanced in the construction of hydro power projects and persuaded them to select a Sri Lankan corporation, Eco Power Global.

MPs' concerns

MP Esperance Uwimana told the House that when she visited the plant, she realised that one of the machines at the plant was dysfunctional, adding that the plant was producing a meagre 5.2MW at the time of the visit.

According to Uwimana, of the plant's three machines, one was generating 3MW, and another 2.5MW, while the third was defective and not generating power as expected.

But Kirenga said: "It's because people don't understand how hydropower works. There is nothing like constant supply of power. It (the situation) can't be found anywhere."

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