Power shortages get worse in Central Asia
by Peter Leonard
Kazakhstan announced it was pulling out of the Central Asian power grid to protect its energy supplies, a move that
forced rolling blackouts and electricity rationing on Kyrgyzstan, its tiny, power-starved neighbour. Kazakhstan said
it had to withdraw from the power grid because Tajikistan -- another small and cash-strapped Central Asian nation --
was taking more energy from the grid than it was producing, threatening to disrupt supplies in Kazakhstan.
"As of Feb. 26, Tajik state energy company has made unscheduled use of 84 mm kWh of electricity," the state-owned Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company said.
The Kazakh move means Kyrgyzstan must ration supplies in the northern half of the country, including the capital
Bishkek, to avoid overloading the domestic grid, according to Kyrgyz power spokeswoman Ulyana Konvalova. Failure to
coordinate sharing resources is a chronic problem in the five countries of Central Asia, where Soviet-built
electricity networks have been blighted in recent years by crumbling generation and distribution
And in tiny Kyrgyzstan, increasingly frequent power outages have caused public discontent. Kyrgyz opposition parties say government corruption is behind the mishandling of the country's power resources, which are especially strained during cold winter months.
An exceptionally cold winter last year forced authorities to generate additional electricity, leaving water levels
dangerously low at a hydroelectric plant that generates 40 % of the country's power. Kyrgyzstan relies heavily on
hydropower to generate electricity for domestic customers.
A solution to Kyrgyzstan's energy problem appears distant, especially amid the global financial meltdown. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev recently secured $ 2.15 bn in aid and loans from Russia. Shortly after, lawmakers voted to close a US military base near Bishkek. However, if the base shuts down, Bishkek will forgo $ 150 mm in rent and other payments from Washington, a sum that approaches 2 % of the Kyrgyz gross domestic product.
Meanwhile, Tajikistan, a mountainous country on Afghanistan's north-eastern border, is already imposing severe power
cuts across the country due to crippling shortages not linked to Kazakhstan's move. Electricity has been limited to
11 hours in the capital city, Dushanbe, and around four hours in the provinces. State power company Barki Tojik says
electricity supplies to some areas have been suspended altogether because of the energy crisis.
In October, energy-rich Turkmenistan pledged to supply Tajikistan with 1.2 bn kWh of electricity via Uzbekistan annually until 2012. But that arrangement broke down in January after Tajikistan failed to agree on a transit deal with Uzbekistan.