Tajik President Emomali Rahmon sees country's future in hydropower

Aug. 15, 2013 at 9:52 PM
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DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Resource poor, water-rich Tajikistan sees hydropower as a future asset.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon Wednesday inaugurated a $33.2 million, 220 kilowatt substation upgrade at the Nurek hydroelectric station on the Vakhsh River.

The Nurek hydroelectric cascade currently provides energy to about 80 percent of the country's consumers, as well as provides irrigation water to downstream neighbors Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Tajikistan's hydroelectric ambitions have unsettled Tajikistan's downstream neighbors. Alone amongst the post-Soviet Central Asian states, Tajikistan endured a brutal civil war that began in 1992.

When the conflict ended five years later, the nation's economy was in ruins, with nearly 50,000 dead and what little was left of the Soviet infrastructure largely in shambles.

Since the end of the conflict the Tajik government has attempted to improve its economy by assiduously seeking foreign investment, but its marginal industrial base combined with rampant corruption has left the nation largely devoid of foreign direct investment, which in the last two decades has barely topped $1 billion. In contrast, Kazakhstan has received more than $140 billion and neighboring Uzbekistan $50 billion.

Dushanbe is accordingly pinning its hopes on hydroelectric power for both indigenous use and exports, generated by the country's alpine lakes and rivers, seeing a situation when its hydroelectric facilities could not only meet domestic demand but would also allow the nation to export electricity to neighboring energy-poor Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To do so, Tajikistan must complete several leftover Soviet-era hydroelectric projects, which makes downstream neighbors Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan all nervous, as they rely on regular discharges of water not only from Tajikistan but Kyrgyzstan as well to irrigate their crops.

The crown jewel of the Tajik government's plans is to be the 3,600 megawatt Rogun dam, first proposed in 1959.

Praising extension of existing facilities and the country's hydropower future potential, Tajikistan's Avesta news agency reported Thursday Tajik President Emomali Rahmon told journalists, "Today, for (Tajikistan's) energy industry and other entities the most important task is the import of modern technology and the widespread use of energy-saving technologies."

But the centerpiece of this vision as a power exporter is based on completion of the Rogun hydroelectric cascade, which has generated increasing concerns among downstream states Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

French multinational Alstom partnered with Tajikistan's Barki Tojik energy conglomerate to complete the Nurek upgrades. Aslton president for Central Asia Marek Stec told reporters: "Opening the upgraded substation is a new milestone in the lasting and mutually beneficial collaboration between Alstom Grid and Barki Tojik. Nurek HPP's 220 kV and 500 kV gas-insulated substation upgrade projects are essential to ensuring safe and reliable electricity supply in Tajikistan. At Alstom, we are glad to bring our most up-to-date technologies and solutions to support the country's economic development."

While the Nurek hydroelectric upgrades are renovating a Soviet-era hydroelectric facility, Tajikistan's ambitious plans to increase its hydroelectric cascades are increasingly inciting opposition from its downstream neighbors, dependent as they are on regular aquatic discharges from the snowmelt waters in the Tien Shan and Pamir mountains. In such a situation, tensions between the post-Soviet Central Asian states over water issues seem likely to increase.

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