26 May 2017

Rwanda: New Rwanda Energy Group Boss Says to Priotitise Off-Grid Energy

Photo: New Times
A Gigawatt solar power farm in Rwamagana District.

With about seven months left to 2018, the new Rwanda Energy Group (REG) chief executive, Ron Weiss, is reviewing targets of generating about 563 megawatts by next year to determine feasibility.

The target is to ensure that at least 70 per cent of households in Rwanda are connected to power.

The new chief executive who officially took office on Wednesday replacing Jean Bosco Mugiraneza told The New Times that he is well aware of the goals and is in the process of reviewing them before making recommendations on the next steps.

Currently, REG has a generation capacity of 208MW, less than half of the 2018 target while the connection rate is currently at about 32 per cent.

"I am familiar with the targets of this country. I am in the process of looking into the feasibility of the target so I can recommend to the minister what to do next," Weiss said in the interview.

The target was to have off grid solutions contributing about 22 per cent of all connections by 2018.

"I think one of the most important things is to increase off-grid solutions. This will increase the process of making power accessible," he said. Currently off-grid connections constitute 4 per cent.

This will however require setting the sub-sector up in a way that makes it more attractive to investors.

"RURA has to work on the tariffs for the companies. There will be many investors coming who want to deliver off-grid solutions. They need the correct tariffs for them to connect the population," he added.

The Israeli native noted that it is also important to have conversations on what will happen when the grid arrives in areas using off grid. This, he said, is important in boosting investor confidence.

"These are areas that should be discussed so that investors will know the profitability of the venture. This will give them confidence to come and invest in off-grid solutions," he said.

Weiss also comes into office days after the Auditor General's 2015/16 cited accountability challenges at Rwanda Energy Group.

Since its establishment in 2014, the institution has never received a clean audit report from the Auditor General.

The AG's report found that there was unutilised stock items worth Rwf1.5 billion, which were obsolete, dormant and slow moving at the institution.

The report also listed REG among institutions with unsupported expenditure and among the entities with most delayed or abandoned contracts during the period under review.

"Since the handover of assets of former EWSA to REG and WASAC, management of these entities did not prepare any reconciliation between fixed assets received and those allocated to them as per the Prime Minister's Order," the report said.

Weiss said that he has already began examining all financial reports of the agency and promised to reduce operating costs.

"We are examining all the financial reports and we have to reduce all the costs of the company, REG, and its subsidiaries. We should have a cost effective tariff," he told this paper.

Another task that has dragged over time at the agency is importation of power from neighbouring countries which he said is on his list of priorities.

"This inter connection is currently being built. Some of the lines are ready but we have to complete the substation. I am already trying to find a temporary solution in order to bring power from Uganda and other places. I will however need the support and approval of all stakeholders," he explained.

Weiss brings on board about 27-year experience gained from Israel and beyond.

11 of the 27 years were gained in energy generation field during which he was part of a 2600MW power plant.

He later became senior vice president responsible for all Israeli projects in the energy sector including design and construction of power stations and substations.

"I worked in Israel and around the world, we also worked in Rwanda helping with the master plan. I think I have the right experience for the job," he said.

REG board chairperson Manasseh Mbonye called on staff to support the incoming CEO as the company seeks to connect more households across the country.

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