Electricity Line Restored After Outage in Douala, Concerns Remain

Business in Cameroon | The 90 kV electricity transmission line between Logbaba and Koumassi, which was damaged by a fire on the night of May 1-2, has now been restored, according to an internal source at the National Electricity Transmission Company (Sonatrel). “The situation has returned to normal since the early hours of Sunday, May 5,” confirmed Eneo.

The incident had forced Sonatrel to take the Koumassi substation offline, leading to power outages in several neighborhoods of the first and second districts of Douala, including Akwa, Bonanjo, Bonapriso, Bali, New-Bell, Mboppi, Babylon, Saint-Michel, Nylon, Bonaloka, Bonadiwoto, New Town Airport, Grand Village, Bonongo, Bille, and surrounding areas. The situation persisted for at least three days due to a delayed response.

Sonatrel only began repair work in the night of May 3-4, two days after the incident. The public electricity transporter demanded payment of unpaid bills by Eneo to finance the repairs. Faced with a garnishment order from the tax authorities, the subsidiary of the British investment fund Actis claimed it was unable to pay Sonatrel, proposing instead to carry out the repairs and deduct the cost from its debt to the public electricity transporter. This proposal was rejected by Sonatrel, which ultimately proceeded with the repairs.

Ongoing Risks

The transmission line between Logbaba and Koumassi was built in 2018 with wooden poles, intended as a “temporary (6-month)” solution, according to Eneo. The repairs carried out last week by Sonatrel involved replacing two wooden gantries that had burned during the fire with more durable concrete poles. However, there are still 32 wooden poles on this line, which is considered strategic.

“The risk of incidents remains high, especially when we remember that on April 16, a storm had already knocked down two poles on this line,” said an industry expert. The expert also highlighted the high risk of fire, as several timber yards similar to the one that burned on the night of May 1-2 are located along the transmission line, despite being prohibited.

Eneo estimates that an additional CFA90 million in work is needed to strengthen this transmission line. However, it seems this has not been a priority for Sonatrel, which should have reinforced the line at least five years ago. Sonatrel is also hampered by the financial imbalance in the electricity sector, with over CFA125 billion in unpaid bills from Eneo.

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