Last week, the Managing Director of the Energy Utility Corporation Limited (EUCL), Eng. Jean-Claude Kalisa, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Energy Group (REG), Jean-Bosco Mugiraneza, held a press conference where they addressed different issues pertaining to power supply in the country, the challenges, achievements and the way forward.
Our Senior Reporter Nasra Bishumba attended and below are the excerpts.
Opening remarks by Jean-Bosco Mugiraneza, CEO REG
I will start off with telling you what we have achieved and then we will give you an opportunity to ask questions.
As I speak today, we no longer ration electricity. The power capacity we have now is enough that we can supply to whoever needs it without necessarily cutting off one side to service the other. That’s one of our achievements of 2016.
CIMERWA cement plant at Bugarama is now on the national grid and its being serviced by the Gishoma peat plant.
In the Southern Province, the Rukarara sub-station is complete and it is helping us solve the inconsistent power supply that has affected Nyamagabe, Huye, Nyaruguru, Nyanza, and Ruhango due to the long distribution line from Kigoma through Huye to Nyaruguru forcing about six districts to sometimes be cut off at the same time. That issue is now fixed and there is now power stability and of course we are saving power that was being lost through those channels.
We are now focusing on the Gabiro sub-station as a solution for the poor Nyagatare-Kagitumba power supply and we are hoping that by the end of this year, it will be close to completion.
We have also started a project to revamp, upgrade and increase the capacity of Kigali sub-stations where we are building one in Gahanga, renovate the one of Jabana and Mount Kigali so that we are able to provide electricity long term but also to support the factories that are going to be based in Bugesera. We are also planning to build a sub-station on the area that was cut out for factories at the Kigali Special Economic Zone. The projects in Kigali have already started and we have already compensated the locals as part of the process to speed up the process. When all this is done, load shedding will be history.
Gaciye II, which is owned by a private businessman, is also complete and operational. We are now on 208 Megawatts and from 190 that we told you about in the past.
Another thing is that we are now able to provide better services to even bigger numbers of customers because REG has opened branches in all districts unlike before where two districts had to share a branch. These branches will also be supported by bigger provincial branches.
You have indicated that the prices have changed, could it be connected to the recent breakdown that caused purchasing electricity impossible in many areas?
Eng. Kalisa: Like I told you initially, buying from 0-15 units has its own price which is the cheapest, from 15-50 units, the price begins to go slightly up, from 50 and above, it also has its own price. Here, we are referring to consumers specifically buying electricity for domestic use who are actually the majority of our clients. What happens is that the system does a follow-up of what kind of consumer you are. Today, you may for example, purchase electricity worth Rwf500 which gives you 4.7 units, when you come back for more, the system still registers that, but should you exceed 15 units, it automatically also changes the pricing. So generally, those are many numbers that are being crunched at the same time because many people are buying electricity all the time and at the same time. That affected the system, first with it being really slow and sometimes, just simply on and off. So yes, it is connected.
Was the above mentioned problem a surprise to you or were you aware of it? If so, why were consumers not forewarned?
Eng. Kalisa: It was not a surprise because we spent a long time preparing. A few months ago, we invited you (journalists) here to tell you that we were upgrading our system but while technology fixes problems, it also sometimes surprises you. What is important however is that the problem has been fixed and everyone can now purchase electricity without fail.
So many people, who run small businesses incurred losses within those days because of this issue, is there some sort of compensation?
Mugiraneza: There are two things that you need to know. There is no time when there was no electricity. Secondly, our vendors never stopped selling electricity. There is nothing very unusual that really happened. What we acknowledge is that people who were used to purchasing power using mobile money found it impossible or had to use other means. When a client feels that they have a genuine complaint, they are free to file it with the regulator who in this case is the Rwanda Utility and Regulatory Agency (RURA).
There was excitement when it was announced that electricity prices had been slashed. Unfortunately, there has been confusion as most clients say that they still get the same units for the amount that they were paying for before. How do you explain this?
Eng. Kalisa: When I was explaining about the new tariff, I didn’t go into the old one, but there are some prices that actually never changed. We had two categories which fell under factories and they were paying Rwf126 per unit and the rest were paying Rwf182. So, those whose tariff has not changed and stayed on the Rwf182 are the domestic consumers who were in the second category that I mentioned previously.
You mentioned earlier that you can now avail electricity to whoever needs it. Why then is it that the electricity that you offer sometimes is not strong enough to even support switching on of a television set?
Eng. Kalisa: We are aware of this problem in some places and we have already done some studies and we are slowly fixing it. This issue is caused by the fact that in some areas, we linked them to power channels when they were really few in the area but with the increase in the population, the power that they require also increases. In Kigali for instance, there are new high-rise buildings coming up every day and the population is also increasing by day. We are currently changing some transformers and replacing them with more capacity and we are adding other channels that will help to strengthen those that are already available. In Kigali, we have solved 85 percent of that issue and we are hoping to have completely dealt with it even outside the city by June this year.
There is an issue of people who order and pay for cash power meters but take too long to receive them. What exactly is the problem?
Karegeya: Normally when you apply for subscription to our services, you are required to pay a small amount while the government tops up to enable everyone to access electricity. The Rwf56,000 that a client pays cannot alone, connect someone to electricity. That amount is just a small contribution because there is a lot that is involved; there are wires, there is labor and many other things. In the recent past, we indeed had an issue because our supplier took some time to deliver the meters and in the process the number of clients increased but when we eventually received them, we had a list of clients who had applied and paid and we proceeded to distribute them accordingly.
When you are moving about in some rural areas all over the country like Rwamagana, Nyaruguru and others, you notice that there are so many homes that have cash power meters and their homes are already wired only that they are too poor to afford the Rwf56,000 that is required for them to be switched on. What is being done to help those poor families to access electricity? Is the government not losing money in the waiting process?
Eng. Kalisa: The good news is that by the end of this month, we are entering some people in our system, who already have cash power meters but are unable to purchase power. Initially, these were allowed to pay the Rwf65,000 subscription fee in installments of Rwf15,000; however, we found out that it is difficult for some of them to even afford those installments. What we are now going to do is that we will be taking 50 percent of the amount that they pay to buy electricity units and slowly help them to achieve their goal to finish paying off the subscription amount. These people make to between 5 and 7 percent of our consumers who come to about 600,000.
You say that you are no longer rationing electricity yet there is still load shedding in some areas like Kanombe and Muhanga, what does this mean?
Eng. Kalisa: This is an issue that we discuss often and it’s true that load shedding happens but we try to fix the problem in the shortest time possible. There is an issue of some of our channels that are old, some of which have been around for more than 40 years. There are projects to fix that but even when we have the capacity, it takes about 18 to 24 months to be able to build a new channel or substation. That excludes the time spent on studies and tendering processes but we are dealing with these issues day by day. The issue of Kanombe, Kimironko and some parts of Kicukiro is something that we are taking seriously and we already have the new equipment that we are replacing with the old ones and soon, those areas will be free of their frustrations.