Roadmap for clean cooking energy to target rural masses

Energy minister January Makamba greets residents of Urambo District in Tabora Region on Saturday after the visit of a site of where a power sub-station is to be built. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Back form an extensive working tour of 10 regions across Tanzania, energy minister January Makamba sat for an interview with The Citizen’s Bernard James over lessons learnt and interventions to deliver on key energy supply objectives by the government.

 After your recent tour of 10 regions, what can you say were the lesson for you as minister to intervene for improvement of service delivery?
 What we have discovered is that there is a huge demand for electricity in rural Tanzania. The more we connect people to this service the greater the need for power. Everywhere we passed in villages and hamlets we were greeted with demand for electricity.
Secondly, we have discovered that implementation of some rural electrification projects were stalled. Our tour had the impact of resolving this predicament. We were moving around with contractors and the people were bringing out issues that we in the offices and even responsible institution were not aware of. We have learnt many new things that would help speed up this work.
Thirdly, we have discovered there is a big challenge on availability of clean fuel energy, particularly in villages. When we travel in regions we come across fuel stations nearly every five kilometers but if you go deep into villages Wananchi are consuming unsafe fuel that is sold in used plastic bottles at inflated prices. That problem is serious.
We have witnessed the difficulties that women are going through in search for cooking energy and tough conditions they endure. Lastly, we have seen and discovered that our energy policy has a crucial role in conserving the environment and improving the lives of Tanzanians.
We are also aware that Kigoma, Katavi, Rukwa and parts of Kagera Region are not connected to the national grid. We are committed to ensure they are connected.

There have been complaints that some rural electrification projects have stalled because contractors who were given the work were incapable. What’s your comment on this?
It’s true we have seen some projects have stopped. We have discovered delays in some areas that were covered by the previous rounds of REA (Rural Energy Authority) projects since 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In some areas it was due to special circumstances, in other areas the projects were diverted to areas not covered in the contracts. Others have gone bankrupt while other companies were faced with unforeseeable circumstances that prevented them from performing.
But the other side is the fact that some contractors were affected by the abrupt surge in prices of equipment used in the power distribution, particularly copper and aluminum as prices surged by 140 per cent.

Unfortunately, the contracts that we had were fixed price contracts. This means the government will not be responsible with any impact caused by that change of price.
In some places contractors openly asked us to take back the projects and they were ready to repay the advance we paid. So, because these projects have to be implemented, we as the government had to relook at the costs against the reality on the ground. Finally, we had to pump in more money and review contracts that took the new costs into consideration. Some contractors have resumed works.

In your plans to promote sustainable energy use, what would be the effective means to ensure, for example, use of gas in rural Tanzania is efficient and affordable?
If you seriously look at this issue you will discover that majority of people in rural area who unfortunately have no platforms to make their voices heard are cooking in a way different from us living in towns.
They are spending more time looking for cooking energy but which again is not good for their health. Those who can afford clean energy smell food in their kitchen but for those struggling their kitchen is full of smoke.
About 22,000 Tanzanians die annually for respiratory diseases associated with firewood smoke. We us government has a special role of reversing this trend. The energy policy requires us to ensure wananchi have access to clean, safe and affordable cooking energy.
We were supposed to have a strategic plan to pull out Tanzania from the use unsafe cooking energy. We have for many years focused and invested on electricity generation, we have set up measures to control the prices of fuel but we haven’t done enough to address the problem of cooking energy.
It has not been a priority because people who have the voice and platforms to speak about it are not affected. So we have decided to take up this challenge head on.
There are several approaches to tackle this challenge. In India, 98 per cent of households are using LPG and other sources of energy in cooking.
The profile of rural India is almost similar to ours. There are many poor people but the country has managed to make that energy accessible. To get to that level, we must prepare a workable plan that will take into consideration characteristics, culture and the ability of Tanzanians to consume that energy.
We already have the evidence and data from research about the market for gas cylinders from companies selling gas. Those numbers and information are crucial for us in the government as we look for ways to ensure majority of our people turn to gas.
The gas cylinders that we distributed in different areas during my tour is part of this research. We’ll go back to those who received the cylinders to collect data and more information on the usage. What we know so far is that nearly 50 per cent of those who received the cylinders continues to use them. We want to collect more information that would help us craft a comprehensive plan. We are determined to push this agenda forward. We are also going to hold an international conference in September or October about cooking energy here in Tanzania.
All stakeholders in clean cooking energy, ministries responsible with cooking technologies have been invited. There will be exhibition on different ways of cooking. There will be discussion of monetary, legal and policy interventions that would help tackle this problem. So, we have decided to take up the issue of cooking energy vigorously to liberate the woman to a larger extent. Those dying from this problem are more than those dying of HIV/Aids and from road accidents.  
And the use of LPG is just one solution. Others sources are biogas which is being used by 85 per cent of Tanzanians. We promote this too. So I see that transformation of the lives of Tanzanias through the use of energy will come through transformation on the way we cook. To me, to pull one woman out of the use of firewood for cooking will be a great achievement.
The enthusiasm seen when distributing the gas cylinders has inspired us very much. We saw tears of joy flowing from women who received the free cylinders. So, I have winded my tour with more determination and motivation to take up the cooking energy issue as a top agenda.
When I came here at the ministry I found a plan called LPG Promotion Plan, I found another plan called NGUMP---National Gas Utilisation Master Plan. These are not new initiatives. I’ve only decided to implement things that were already on the table.
We have set aside Sh10.5 billion for promoting the use of gas in this financial year.
Secondly, we also have LPG Utilisation Master Plan, there is a concept note, we are completing it and it will be launched. The National Gas Utilisation Master Plan focuses more on industries and vehicles. We are going to inject more money than ever before and work with the private sector on ways to facilitate distribution of clean energy, particularly in rural areas.
For the first time, we have scraped tax on locally manufactured gas cylinders. We will work with our colleagues in the finance ministry to ensure costs further go down. We are now promoting technologies that would enable people to buy cooking gas in small packages of Sh500, Sh200 and Sh1,000. That technology is there, we’ve started promoting it because high prices of gas is one of the obstacles that prevent majority of Tanzanians from using gas.
Our energy policy is very clear on this; that the price of energy must be cost reflective. That is why you see the price of fuel is calculated but we don’t have this in the cooking energy.
If the price of charcoal would be calculated taking into consideration the actual cost of producing the charcoal---consider the price of the log from seedling, consider the cost of nonexistence of that tree from the environment, consider levies on that log---no one could have afforded purchasing it.
The way forward is to make sure a competitive prices of these energies in the market.

So, what strategy are you planning to come with after all this work?
A roadmap. We cannot phase out the use charcoal overnight. The final document will give us a roadmap that will include policy, legal, regulatory and tax framework. For example, the law can direct that all institutions that feed more than 300 people are forbidden from using firewood and charcoal.
So, we are expecting a roadmap which is very clear. Even countries that have succeeded did not do everything overnight, they started as a journey. Unfortunately, we haven’t started the journey, we only talk but we don’t see the clear way out.
People in rural areas raised concern during your tour of delays in electricity connection because of shortage of power connection equipment. Is there a quick solution for this?
I am aware of the problem. It was a very serious problem. When I reported at this ministry there were about 140,000 pending applications for power connection, today there are 30,000. We procured bulk equipment at once and distributed it in regions.
Regional managers have promised to clear the pending application by the end of August this year. We have distributed enough meters, enough wires and electric poles because we gave this issue the weight it deserves. The changes we are making at Tanesco in improving service delivery to customers are bearing fruits.

Where do we get these equipment from? Do we depend on imports or we produce locally?
Most of these equipment are imported. Producing them locally is not a gurantee of a good price. You know, for example, that many imported things whose price is relatively cheap than the price of similar things that are produced locally because of competitiveness in the production process. The most important this for us is that we want to see them produced locally because of creation of employment.

Recently Tanesco entered a deal with UAE’s Masdar for generation of 2,000MW of renewable energy. This is almost as big as Mwalimu Nyerere Dam. How significant is this investment in changing the power dynamics in Tanzania?
It’s true it is a mega project. Our country has plenty of many useful resources for power generation, we have huge potential to produce energy using coal, solar, and wind, hydro, gas and we have waterfalls and even uranium.
In countries like India the amount of solar energy that is injected into the national grid is about 20 times of all the electricity we produce. We are lagging behind. So the first objective is to have energy mix in the national grid for power security.

A secured national grid must have a mix of power from different sources.
Considering that Masdar is a UAE’s-owned company and enjoys a good reputation in this area, we are optimistic that this investment will bring huge changes in the energy sector.
Remember that agreements over this project were the result of the tour of President Samia Suluhu Hassan. So we are prepared to support and implement it. It is our hope that this energy will be affordable because it is relatively cheap than gas.