Uzbekistan damages regional power network
By Erica Marat
Uzbekistan recently officially announced that it will quit the Central Asia
power system. Tashkent's decision affects all countries in the region, with
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan suffering the most. The recent policy shift reflects
the predicaments of Soviet period planning of energy supplies in the Central
Asian region when - in general terms - upstream and downstream countries were
presupposed to trade water for fuel.
Uzbekistan will now use its new Guzar-Surkhan transmission lines that provide
electricity from its domestic thermal power plants (TPP) to Surkhandarya oblast
While every Central Asian country wishes to separate from the Soviet-inherited
regional electricity transmission network, the costs remain too high.
Tashkent's decision was mostly political and Uzbek TPP's will experience severe
problems in the delivery
of the necessary amount of electricity during peak and non-peak hours. Unlike
TPPs, hydropower plants in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are better able to
regulate electricity supplies during daily fluctuations in the electricity
During the Soviet period, Tashkent was in charge of controlling the Central
Asian electricity network. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central
Asian countries were exposed to market economic conditions and each state had
to survive on its own to secure sufficient energy. Upstream Kyrgyzstan and
Tajikistan have most of the region's water resources, while downstream
Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan enjoy natural gas and oil reserves.
Experts from the Soviet era still working in Tashkent and are able to consult
the government on how to better separate national energy production from the
regional network and thus gain more energy independence. Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan, however, are more vulnerable and need to put greater effort into
managing domestic energy security. Turkmenistan, by contrast, was able to leave
the regional energy network in 2003.
Tashkent has been warning its neighbors of its decision to separate from the
regional network since it began the construction of several transmission lines
several years ago. But real threats to cut the transmission lines were voiced
only as late as the end of summer.
Unlike most regional experts' perceptions, Tajikistan will be unable to control
water flow to Uzbekistan during the summer period, and is thus deprived of
political leverage over Tashkent. Tajikistan's Nurek dam's storage capacity is
not enough to keep more than one-third of the water flowing through Vakhsh
River while another Amudarya tributary, the Panj River, is not regulated at
Both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been seeking to increase independence from
each other for several years. Both countries pursued the construction of
high-voltage transmission lines and substations. The government in the Tajik
capital, Dushanbe, has also shown a clear determination to construct the Rogun
dam on the Vakhsh River and, to Tashkent's disadvantage, increase its own
ability to generate power and increase control of water flows to Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan produces power in the south and used to transmit electricity to its
industrial north through the Uzbek transmission system. Despite Tajikistan
completing the South-North line, Dushanbe still needs to connect its northern
load centers to the new substation in Khodjent using 220-kilovolt transmission
lines to secure greater independence from Tashkent. Chinese investors are in
the process of constructing these lines. Indeed, Tajikistan will experience
electricity shortages this winter as earlier contracts on energy supplies with
Turkmenistan through the territory of Uzbekistan are now undermined by
Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan has reached an agreement with Kazakhstan on improving the
reliability of its energy supplies. Kazakhstan will supply Kyrgyzstan with
humanitarian aid to buy coal from Kazakhstan in return for cheaper electricity
and other business benefits. However, this agreement is rather short term. It
will allow Kyrgyzstan to obtain sufficient amounts of coal for the Bishkek TPP,
but not solve the country's overall energy dependence issues.
As one expert from Tajikistan told Jamestown, "while being unable to regulate
supplies of electricity during peak and non-peak hours, Uzbekistan will still
manage the imperfect energy system by coercively cutting energy to its
population during peak hours. Entire oblasts and cities might suffer
from energy shortages." Overall, the excess of electricity during non-peak
hours and shortages during peak hours will negatively affect the entire
However, Tajikistan has been trying to use maximum energy levels in the
regional network, thus provoking Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to take swift
action, while at the same time building its own lines and substations.
Unlike Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan has done virtually nothing to provide its own
energy independence and was unable to construct the Datka substation in the
south in order to increase independence from the Uzbek network. The delay in
construction is caused by corruption and poor management of the energy sector,
which usually relies on short-term solutions.
Erica Marat is a research fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
and Silk Road Studies Program. She is an expert on security issues in Central
Asia, with a specific interest in military, national and regional defense, as
well as state-crime relations in Eurasia. Dr Marat holds a BA in Sociology from
the American University - Central Asia, an MA in Political Sociology from the
Central European University and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the
University of Bremen.