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The 600MW Karuma hydro-power dam, worth $1.7b (about sh6.3 trillion), is transforming the aerial viewof the RiverNile in Kiryandongo, after the water was rechannelled through the dam’s spillway and the testing of the turbines has started.

Sinohydro Corporation Ltd deputy manager Li Ji said they have conducted tests of the turbines and found the facility in sound condition. “The men are nowmaking finishing touches,” Ji said.

There are six turbines and each is expected to produce 100MW. “If all goes well, we expect this to be the Christmas gift for Uganda,” he added, explaining that the power will be evacuated by three transmission lines, one from Karuma to Kawanda and another from Karuma to Olwiyo and a third from Karuma to Lira.

The contractor took a team of journalists to tour the new dam site on Friday. According to a Sinohydro technician, Andrew Kamagara, some of the six turbines are ready to spin. “The underground powerhouse, which will receive water to spin the turbines is being painted,” Kamagara said. “By December, we expect it to be commissioned and to generate the needed power,” he added.

The journalists were taken underground through a tunnel, to the powerhouse, located over 100 metres deep in the rock. Oxygen is being provided through pipes and the tunnels are lit by a generator. There were trucks delivering and taking away items from underground. “We cannot afford to lose even a single minute,” Li said.

Generally, life in Karuma has never been the same since the construction of the dam began. Poultry farms, high-end hotels and business units have opened up in the neighbourhood of Karuma and Kiryandongo, Tourists destined to Murchison Falls National Park, make stopovers at the place. The volume of Chinese destined to Murchison Falls National Park has shot up in the recent past.

Karuma hydropower dam taps into Victoria Nile at the lower end of Karuma Falls, about 2.5km from the Masindi-Gulu highway. According to the design of the project, water from the river will be diverted to the power station through six inlets, to power the six turbines underground. The water will then be channelled back through two 8km tunnels to join the river at its lower end.

A person travelling on the Gulu-Masindi highway will have no idea that 100 metres beneath them, water will be flowing back to the river. Why Karuma is important Karuma is one of the country’s big hydropower projects envisaged to help to significantly lower the unit cost of electricity within the next three years. Unlike the 250 megawatt Bujagali hydropower project, which is producing power at an average of 11 US cents per unit, the completion of Karuma and Isimba is expected to bring down the cost to about 5 US cents.

It is hoped that the cost of power will reduce even further over the years. While Bujagali was built and is currently managed by a private investor, Karuma and Isimba are funded by the Government, with loans from China Exim Bank.

The Government is funding 15% of the project, while 85% is funded by the Chinese government, through a concessionary loan from the EXIM Bank of China. The breaking of the ground ceremony for the project was held on August 8, 2013

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