Rural Electrification Still Too Slow [analysis]

THE pace of rural electrification in Namibia is generally “too slow” with only one in every three households in Erongo Region connected.

This makes Erongo the least successful in rural electrification in the country despite the fact that the region has the highest urban electrification rate with up to eight out of 10 houses electrified.

Erongo RED chief executive officer Robert Kahimise says this makes the challenge of rural electrification a reality for them considering their vision: Electricity for All by 2020.

Ellie Cloete, one of the Topnaars who have been living along the Kuiseb River since the 1800s, has learned to live in the harsh desert environment without electricity – next to a powerline that powers the pumps which feed Walvis Bay’s water needs.

“We have been promised electricity but we still have nothing. How do other rural areas like Spitzkoppe and Otjimbingwe get electricity ahead of us?” she asks.

Using wood has had an impact on the trees over many years, and it is costly to go to Walvis Bay to buy wood, gas and paraffin.

More than a 1 000 Topnaars live along the river, with Utuseb as their ‘capital’ where only the JP Brand school and a small clinic are electrified by NamPower.

“Sometimes we go to the school to recharge our cellphones. The solar panels at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry offices have already broken down, so they only have solar power in the day,” says Elton Fischer at Utuseb.

Topnaars vice chief Stoffel Animab says there is a definite need for electricity for basic needs, such as cooking and preserving food in fridges.

“We asked NamPower if we can connect households there, but they said the electricity is not for private use. There has been talk of electrifying the houses here but we are still waiting,” he says.

As Cloete rightly observes, the small rural community at the foot of the Spitzkoppe has electricity, whether it is a shack or a house. The network there has been neatly organised and installed by Erongo RED.

“We are very happy and life is good now,” a Spitzkoppe resident happily tells The Namibian.

Situation on the ground

Erongo Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua says the region is the most industrialised in Namibia with mining, fisheries and logistics sectors, yet it lags behind when it comes to its rural communities accessing electricity.

Speaking during the official switching-on ceremony for 165 houses at the Donkerhoek location at Uis in December 2013, Mutjavikua said electricity and industry goes hand in hand.

Uis chief administration officer Amingo Honneb says the “poorest of the poor” in the location had no electricity till recently.

“That’s why they are called ‘Donkerhoek’. They were in the dark while the rest of the town had electricity. Thanks to Erongo RED, they have power, and now the whole town has it,” says Honneb.

Satellite dishes have mushroomed in the neighbourhood, and people now enjoy watching television although the problem is that they cannot afford anything else, while some of the dishes are just dishes.

“I have a TV my son gave me but I do not have the money to buy a stove or a fridge,” says Oltine Namises, an old resident of Donkerhoek. “At least, I have light now but I still have to make use of wood and gas to cook.”

Erongo RED says people spend about N$100 per month in prepaid electricity, and use both wood and electricity because they are used to the old method and cannot afford stoves and fridges.

Under the Rural Electrification Master Plan (REDMP), the government decided not to supply electricity to all the rural households but to government buildings, specifically schools and clinics.

Mutjavikua says the electrification of households was the ‘spark’ for spurring rural communities to become economically independent and contribute to the economy and welfare of the nation.

He also says electrifying government buildings should not be at the expense of rural households.

This was, in fact, the REDMP’s aim, which is not being implemented by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the custodian for rural electrification.

“Rural electrification must be expedited. We won’t meet targets at the current pace unless we go the household route. This is a problem with prioritisation. In terms of electricity, the ministry must beef up its priorities,” Mutjavikua says, adding that “maybe if the communities cry louder, the [REDMP] will be implemented”.

“If the master plan is followed, things will go faster. Now money, which could have benefited rural electrification, is being taken away for other ‘urgent priority areas’. That is what I have noticed and I will stand by that,” he claims.

He also says because of industrilisation, Erongo is “close to the grid”, but ironically power lines pass over villages that do not have electricity.

Instead of the master plan being followed, mines and energy now requests priority lists of non-electrified locations from regional councils.

According to Mutjavikua, Erongo’s ‘quota’ under this plan was electrifying two villages a year.

“It’s really not enough. If you want to industrialise, electricity is the key,” he says.

background

The programme started in 1992 and caters for extension of existing networks.

“The programme also allows for electrification of houses within a 500 metre radius from the proposed transformer point. In 2011, mines and energy ministry changed this (after the update),” said Hans Hamukoto, rural electrification expert at Emcon Consulting Group.

Emcon has been involved in rural electrification since 1992 and was responsible for the compilation of the first REDMP for Namibia in 2000, as well as the 2010 five-yearly update.

The REDMP is the guiding document for the systematic and fair implementation of the RE programme. It provides an annual electrification plan listing the rural areas to be electrified per region as well as the associated cost, and a host of other information.

“Unfortunately, it is not being implemented,” Hamukoto doubts.

Spanner in the works

The government’s decision to divert all rural electrification funds to electrify government buildings, and to have these electrified in five years, has resulted in the delay of the electrification of the surrounding houses, except in regions where there are few or no non-electrified schools left.

The disaantage of the REDMP not being implemented is that the expansion of networks might not necessarily follow most economical routes, and skip a village closer to the existing network.

“Selection of areas to be electrified is no longer through a fair points-based system such as stipulated in the REDMP, but rather through perceived priorities from regional councils and will most probably many be politically motivated,” says Hamukoto.

Money talks

Funding for rural electrification came from various sources with government as the biggest funder while NamPower made other significant contributions through a loan from the European Investment Bank and the Swedish International Development Agency.

In recent years, the Millennium Challenge Account has also contributed to the fund. The REDs and regional councils (in non-RED areas) also play an important role in inheriting, operating and maintaining infrastructure.

The implementation of rural electrification projects is determined by and limited to the budget, ranging from N$100 million in 20112012 and N$45 million the previous year. The amount is then divided among the regions. NamPower’s allocation from its annual operating budget is about N$25 million.

Hamukoto reveals that by 2010, about N$280 million had been invested in rural electrification.

“I cannot estimate how much more could have been achieved had the plan been followed to the letter, but I can confidently say the success rate would have been significantly higher,” he explains.

Ironically, one of the requirements of the 2010 REDMP update is that all rural areas identified in the master plan should be electrified within 20 years of the plan – to meet Vision 2030. According to the REDMP regional report, there are about 7 700 rural homesteads in Erongo, with 2 310 electrified.

Needs and numbers

The densely populated northern regions need most attention, while the southern regions have few localities left and are plagued by long distances.

Hamukoto says Erongo has remote rural locations, and often the regional budget would only allow for electrification of one or two settlements.

In 1997, rural areas access to electricity was estimated at nine percent (one in 10 houses), and the government’s goal was to increase this to at least two to three out of 10 houses (or 25%) by 2010. A 2010 REDMP review measured it at 16% – still less than two houses out of 10.

“This means the 25% for rural household access had not been achieved. Thus the programme is lagging. Due to the scattered nature of our rural settlements, electrification costs are often high. There is also a lot of poor performance from some of the contractors and engineers.

“Often government would overrule the engineers’ recommendation for contractor appointment and appoint according to price. On several occasions this has caused problems in implementation due to poor contractor performance. Another big problem is the long and tedious process within government,” Hamukoto further explains.

On a mission

Erongo RED has spent about N$110 million on rural electrification, and has applied to the National Energy Fund for N$50 million, to realise its mission.

Kahimise admits the disharmony between the REDMP “and what is actually happening on the ground”.

“What the ministry is implementing is something else. Why did they go through all the trouble and spend all the money on getting experts to compile a master plan when they do their own thing? This is a waste of resources and money. The fact that government is not implementing the master plan is slowing down the whole process,” he points out.

Kahimise further says when Erongo RED was created in 2005, it did not have the capacity or resources for rural electrification.

“In all fairness, rural electrification was supposed to be budgeted through the regional council but they did not have money. Now that Erongo RED has taken over, we have come to the level where we cannot continue to ignore this type of [rural] customers,” he says, adding that Uis is one such example, and soon Omaruru, Karibi and Usakos peri-urban households will also be electrified.

“What will it help to go across to customers that are served by long lines if your peri-urban people do not have electricity? Like Uis that was surrounded by a network over all the years they could see electricity lines, but they did not have it. That is why there are different phases in rural electrification. We start with peri-urban and then we move out,” Kahimise says.

The DRC is a type of informal peri-urban area that, hopefully, will enjoy electricity soon since its formalisation is in progress. At the moment, powerlines run past the shanty town.

Martha Thomas of the DRC has a house in a lit street, and has a deep freezer, a stove and a washing machine in her shack, but she can’t use them. She still uses wood, gas and paraffin. There are those in the DRC who afford generators – quite noticeable when the sun sets and the rattling starts.

“We don’t have electricity but we hope now with the formalisation, they will act quickly. I would love to have it,” says Thomas.

Source : The Namibian