July 15 was a historic day in Tanzania. After some thirty years of planning and preparation, a US $260-million ‘gas-to-electricity’ project, involving the construction of a 225-km natural gas pipeline from Songo Songo Island in southern Tanzania to Dar es Salaam, the country finally began producing electric power from natural gas. The electricity is being produced at the Ubungo power station in Dar es Salaam.
“This milestone marks a huge step towards reducing our over-reliance on hydro-electric power, which has been so costly to the economy in recent years,” Daniel Yona, Tanzania’s Minister for Energy and Minerals, said. He welcomed the implementation of the project, saying it was coming as the country faced a serious shortage of energy. The 2003 water inflow into the Mtera reservoir, the most important reservoir in Tanzania’s hydropower system, dropped to only 40% of the 60-year average and the water level had reached record lows.
Paul Kurnet, the Vice-President of Globeleq East Africa (the project’s major shareholder) and Managing Director of Songas Ltd, the company conducting the project, said that the power plant would initially supply 75MW of gas-fired power, and a further 40MW within three months. The development would also provide water and electricity to the 40 villages along the pipeline from Kilwa where the gas is extracted.
Experts estimate that there are over 450 billion cubic feet of natural gas at Songo Songo Island, enough to last between 20 and 50 years.
Recurrent droughts have had severe effects on the country’s power supply during recent years. Blackouts and power rationing resulting from low water levels in hydroelectric dams have forced the state-run Tanzania Electric Supply Company Ltd (TANESCO) to rely on diesel-powered generators. Two-thirds, or 381MW, of Tanzania’s installed capacity is hydro-powered. Less than 10% of Tanzania’s population has access to electricity, with average per capita power consumption being 0.023MW. The vast majority of the population uses firewood for energy, a situation that endangers the country’s forests – from the UN’s IRIN Humanitarian Information Unit (which does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations).
SONGAS has also signed contracts with Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) and Twiga Cement Company (TCC) to sell a total of 10 million cubic feet of gas to them daily. TCC has spent $1.1 million to convert its oil-powered system so that it can now use natural gas.
The Guardian has reported that at least 8,000 commuter buses (daladalas), city taxis and other buses have been earmarked for conversion to use natural gas so as to limit pollution. There is also a proposal to build a pipeline to Mombasa by 2006 to supply gas to neighbouring Kenya.

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