Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — METERING.COM — August 24, 2006
“For our customers to pay for electricity involves a change of mindset as they are not used to paying for services,” said Myk Manon, country director, Sudan of the US-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) International.
Speaking at the rural electrification seminar at the 8th Eastern African Power and Mining Industry Convention (EAPIC/EAPIC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last week, Manon was commenting on a project in which he is currently involved to electrify the town of Yei in southern Sudan, close to the borders with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda.
The aim, Manon explained, is to set up power generation facilities (diesel-powered) amounting to 1.2 MW and to install approximately 40 km of distribution lines as well as basic socket meters, providing street lighting and electricity to some 1,200 sites and forming the basis for a system that can eventually be expanded throughout the town.
A pilot involving 30 electrification sites, all businesses, is currently under way with 9 hours of electricity service a day. However between 300 and 600 sites are expected to be electrified by year end with the remainder by the end of 2007, Manon said, adding that at the same time the hours of electricity provision will also be increased, eventually up to 24 hours per day.
Yei’s claim to fame is that, besides being the only large town in the south of Sudan, it was the first town that was liberated in the 20-year civil war that has plagued the country and resulted in the destruction of all infrastructure. The US$5 million project being funded by the US international development agency USAID, is in aid parlance a “peace dividend” and forms part of post-war reconstruction to this North African country, said Manon.
In order to run the system a cooperative utility is being established, the Yei Electric Cooperative (YECO), with all staff drawn from the community. These people are currently being trained for posts ranging from managerial level to office staff and linesmen.
Manon said that in the pilot phase so far there has been a one hundred percent payment rate, despite a flat rate billing – the meters have yet to be installed – and the high cost of US$109 per month. However he expects that with full roll out the payment rate will drop somewhat – but the conditions are strict, with a 5-day payment period after bill presentment and failure to pay resulting in having the service cut on the sixth day and a US$20 reconnection fee.
“These conditions were decided by the community and are agreed to upfront in the service contract,” said Manon.
Yei has a population between 35,000 to 40,000 and between 6,000 to 7,000 households – the number is continually growing as war-displaced refugees return – and interaction with the townspeople as well as with the local chieftains and the town and municipal leaders has proved crucial for the project, Manon said. “With the completion of the project it will be handed over to the community to run and develop further.”
Manon commented that the project has been an “interesting experience”, with all infrastructure having to be built from the ground up. “We even had to build our own house and dig a well!” he said, adding that the closest main centre for supplies such as food is Entebbe in Uganda. Because of Yei’s remoteness fuel for the generators is also costly, resulting in a generation cost of approximately 40 US cents/kWh.
But there is no lack of demand for the service, which is being offered on a first-come first-served basis. “It has social prestige,” said Manon – and some of the first takers, around the time of the recent football World Cup, were canny businessmen who were then able to charge people to view the event!
by Jonathan Spencer Jones