In 1947, Sir Charles Redvers Westlake, an English engineer, played a pivotal role in shaping the energy landscape of Uganda. He reported to the Colonial government of Uganda, passionately advocating for the construction of a dam at Owen Falls, situated near Jinja town. This visionary proposal laid the foundation for the formation of the Uganda Electricity Board, a crucial entity in Uganda’s journey toward harnessing hydroelectric power.
Owen Falls, once a majestic waterfall on the White Nile near Jinja town, underwent a dramatic transformation in 1954. This transformation was realized with the completion of the Nalubale Hydroelectric Power Station, which saw the submergence of Owen Falls and the nearby Ripon falls. Originally named Owen Falls Dam, the dam housing the power station underwent a name change to Nalubale Dam. This renaming extended to the power station itself, transitioning from Owen Falls Power Station to Nalubale Power Station, marking a significant shift in the region’s energy landscape.
The strategic location of the waterfalls, approximately 4 kilometers north (downstream) from where the River exits Lake Victoria, made it an ideal site for Nalubale Dam. The geographical coordinates of the former Owen Falls are 00°26’37.0″N, 33°11’05.0″E (Latitude: 0.443611; Longitude: 33.184722), forever marking the spot where this transformative hydroelectric journey began.
The original Owen Falls Power Station was a concrete gravity dam, housing a closely coupled intake powerhouse unit. This engineering marvel played a pivotal role in regulating the outflows from Lake Victoria through a series of ten turbines and six sluices within the dam. With all six sluices fully opened, the dam could handle a spill capacity of approximately 1,200 cubic meters per second.
Upon its commissioning by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, the power station initially boasted two units, each with a capacity of 15 megawatts, resulting in a total generation capacity of 30 megawatts. Over time, the station saw remarkable growth in generation capacity. A significant milestone was reached in 1968 when all ten units became operational, elevating the power station’s generation capacity to an impressive 150 megawatts.
Operated under agreements between the Colonial British government and the government of Egypt, signed in 1929 and subsequently amended in 1949, the power station adhered to the Agreed Curve. This ensured that the outflow from Lake Victoria remained consistent with its natural state, regulated by the rocky barrier of Ripon Falls.
However, a period of neglect and inadequate maintenance from 1971 to 1986 led to a decline in generation capacity at Owen Falls Dam, plummeting to 60 megawatts by 1986. Urgent repairs and rehabilitation measures were implemented, including increasing the capacity of each turbine from 15 to 18 megawatts, to meet the rising demand for electricity. By 1996, the power station had successfully recovered, achieving a remarkable generation capacity of 180 megawatts.
In the late 1980s, the possibility of further enhancing the power generation capacity of the Nile River at this location captured the attention of Acres International, now a part of Hatch Limited in Canada. This visionary project materialized into a second powerhouse, strategically positioned about 1 kilometer northeast of the Nalubale Power Station. To facilitate this expansion, a new canal was constructed to channel water from Lake Victoria to the new powerhouse. In 1999, major construction efforts culminated in the completion of this ambitious project. The first two units of the five installed came online in 2000, marking a significant milestone. The fifth and final turbine was successfully installed in 2007, with each turbine boasting a formidable capacity of 40 megawatts. This new powerhouse, aptly named the Kiira Hydroelectric Power Station, symbolizes the relentless pursuit of energy innovation in Uganda’s hydroelectric sector.