A vicious showdown is imminent between various government agencies over the proposed construction of a hydropower plant at the iconic Murchison Falls in Nwoya district.
The falls located in the Murchison Falls National Park are a popular tourism spot, thanks to the scenic view as the entire River Nile squeezes its way through a 7-meter gap in the rocks, and tumbles 43 meters before flowing westward into Lake Albert.
The Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) yesterday advertised that a private foreign company was planning to set up a hydropower plant at these falls.
The company, Bonang Power and Energy says in intends to build a 360MW power plant.
The ERA advert in print media is titled, Notice of Intended Application for a License for Establishment of a …Hydropower Plant.”
This website understands that Bonang is working on behalf of Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.
The two recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the former to explore possible sites for construction of hydropower plants.
The proposed project, if it sees the light of day, will be situated about 65 kilometers west of the 600MW Karuma hydropower plant, which is set to be commissioned next year.
The proposal has already generated fury, mostly from the tourism industry, with fear that it threatens one of Uganda’s most famous tourism attractions.
Currently there is conflicting information about the company that’s exploring the dam project.
On their website, Bonang Power Energy say they are a South African company with head offices in Johannesburg.
But officials at ERA claim the company is based in Norway.
Bonang says on its site that it was established five years ago in 2014, by tycoon Ernst Moloi, and has so far completed two hydropower projects.
The Murchison dam project however, is promising to be thorny for the company.
So far various sector players including government agencies have vowed to fight the project.
Bashir Hangi, the spokesperson Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) described the proposal as “unthinkable” while Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) promised to formally file their objection as early as Monday next week.
“Tourism is Uganda’s leading forex earner. We don’t agree with this proposal because it goes against our efforts to promote tourism. On Monday next week we will be formally filing our response to ERA,” said Sandarah Natukunda, the spokesperson UTB.
But ERA insists the project is not only harmless to Tourism, but in the interest of all Ugandans.
ERA spokesman Mr Julius Wandera told us Saturday evening that the dam, if erected “will not affect the falls in any way.”
According to Wandera within the MoU signed with the Energetic Ministry, Bonang “committed that in the event that they find a viable site, they would build after the falls (downstream), without affecting the falls at all.”
But according to the coordinates provided by the Authority for the proposed site, the dam will be located right on the falls.
When we put this to Wandera, he insisted that even then, the plant would not affect the falls, or wildlife.
“Even if it is upstream, such projects are built as run-of the-river,” he said.
“A run-of-the-river means that water just goes through without even affecting the density of the river as is the case with Isimba. The water just passes through the dam and flows back to its natural course.”
He adds that the company Banang, “being Norwegian could not embark on the project, if it threatened the environment.”
“Norwegians you know are very particular about environmental management protection,” he said.
However, sector players think differently.
UWA’s spokesman Mr Hangi told us the power dam would certainly hurt the falls and the wildlife.
Hangi says UWA, which is the caretaker of all wildlife protected areas in the country, will be formally filing their objection to the project to ERA.
“Clearly those falls are the icon of Murchison Falls National Park and they are a must visit destination,” Hangi stressed.
“You cannot just remove them like that. That would be a disaster. Actually it is unthinkable. There is a lot that will happen to the wildlife.”
He added, “The Nile has so many areas where the dams can be built. It doesn’t necessary follow that someone must go for these particular falls.”
On this however, Wandera stressed that government has the right to choose where to build a dam.
“All projects along River Nile are a reserve of the Government of Uganda, to be developed by Government of Uganda under UEGCL,” he said.
Nonetheless, the ERA mouthpiece called on the Ugandans to be calm because the project proposal is still in its infancy and is yet to be considered.
“The Notice of intent, which the investor applied for is just an application,” Wandera clarified.
“It is not a decision. Someone just brought in an application, just like you can apply to KCCA to erect a building. The law ideally requires that when someone puts in an application, we are supposed to advertise.”