Tajik link aims to power diplomatic ties
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently approved a US$35-million grant to reconnect Tajikistan’s electricity grid to the former Central Asian power network in Uzbekistan.
The ADB’s announcement came days before Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon cut the ribbon at the Rogun dam. The dam is 75 metres tall and only one of the six proposed turbines is currently working but it is due to reach a record-breaking 335 metres in height and is intended to double Tajikistan’s generation capacity when it is expected to be completed by 2028. The budget is estimated to reach US$3.9 billion, which might hamper the project.
ADB financial officer Yuki Inoue told the media: “This project will allow Tajikistan to export summer surplus of electricity to Uzbekistan, and to ensure more efficient use of regional energy resources. Reconnection is an important step in ensuring full parallel work with the power system of Uzbekistan and the Central Asian energy system.”
The ADB project between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is focussed on cross-border energy, just as it was a source of diplomatic strife in the past.
The Soviet-era Central Asian Power System (Caps) managed power between the five occupied republics. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan had large hydropower potential, although the water resources were mainly used for irrigation, while Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were rich in oil and gas.
In a 2015 report on rehabilitating Caps, the World Bank reported “the end of the Soviet Union resulted in a progressive decline in a crucial function of Caps … Each country now undertakes energy decision-making independently, eroding established practices, including the physical and technical parameters of the infrastructure.”
The ADB said the Soviet-era infrastructure in Tajikistan had “neither been properly maintained nor replaced, especially during the civil war. This significantly deteriorated the reliability of the protection systems, which is one of the key elements for the parallel operation of the power systems.”
Equipment to increase the reliability of the network would be installed at the junction points on 220 kV and 500 kV transmission lines, the bank said.
The Tajik government withdrew from Caps in 2009 during a famously bitter winter, triggering power failures elsewhere in the landlocked country and in southern Uzbekistan. In November 2009, Kazakhstan claimed Tajikistan was stealing from the grid, which the Tajik government denied.
Uzbekistan, under the dictatorial Islam Karimov, withdrew from Caps in December 2009, blocking gas and oil supplies from Turkmenistan.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has tried to undo the legacy of distrust among the region’s oppressive governments and a desire of the former Soviet colonies to become self-reliant.
The ADB’s project builds on earlier bilateral initiatives. In February, Tajikistan announced it would begin exporting 1.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity to Uzbekistan and power transmissions started in April.
Tajikistan could ease its isolation through improved ties with Uzbekistan. Picture credit: Wikimedia