In the latest heartening indication of improving energy cooperation in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is pledging to reintegrate its electricity grid with that of Tajikistan.
Efforts have over the past decade gone in the other direction, with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan taking the lead in the late 2000s by pulling out of the Soviet-built regional electricity grid.
Eso Sadullayev, head of strategic planning at state-run Uzbekenergo, told Uzbek media that Tashkent has already put the required infrastructure into place to reverse that trend.
“Among our main tasks have been the refurbishment of parallel operations in the electricity systems of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. We have built four 200 kilovolt transmission lines and one 500 kilovolt line to connect the Uzbek and Tajik grids. And I will go further and say that we are ready to activate them,” Sadullayev was cited as saying by Podrobno.uz.
Those lines appear intended to plug snugly into Tajikistan’s own network. Over the summer, Asia-Plus news website cited the deputy head of Tajikistan’s Barki Tojik national electricity company, Mahmadumar Asodoza, as saying there are four 220-kilovolt transmission lines in the north of the country and one 500-kilovolt transmission line running from Regar substation in the west primed for joining with Uzbekistan.
Sadullayev said it now remains for Tajikistan to finalize its part by installing equipment for automation and protection from power surges.
“As far as I am aware, they have already had talks with Rosatom and Energosetproyekt on this matter. As soon as the project is finished and technicians finish work at substations in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the power systems of the two nations will begin to operate in parallel,” he said.
The cooperation is only a sensible and pragmatic acknowledgment of what should be the logical outcome of properly exploiting each nation’s respective assets. Tajikistan and similarly mountainous Kyrgyzstan have around four-fifths of the regions water resources and are in a position to generate vast amounts of hydroelectric power. Uzbekistan and fellow downstream countries Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, meanwhile, have large oil and gas reserves.
Instead of exploiting the obvious opportunities collaboration would yield, various countries have over the years engaged in profound economic self-harm by imposing mutual embargoes, be it on gas, water, electricity, coal or transportation.
Cash-strapped Tajikistan will be particularly eager to reap the benefits of more electricity exchanges. In 2016, Barki Tojik exported 1.3 billion kilowatt hours of its summer surplus, but almost all to Afghanistan. If Tajikistan is ever to complete its mammoth Roghun hydropower plant — which is still the awkward but possibly resolvable irritant in its relations with Uzbekistan — surplus production could provide game-changing windfalls.
The transmission line projects taking shape bring not just Uzbekistan into play, but also Turkmenistan. Ashgabat has repeatedly voiced its willingness to supply Tajikistan with power over periods when it is suffering from seasonal deficits provoked by the need to partially empty reservoirs for irrigation downstream. As recently as November 2, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was in Dushanbe, offering to send electricity in winter and fall to Tajikistan via Afghanistan from freshly completed plants in the Lebap and Mary regions. Turkmenistan’s electricity ambitions are bold — to ratchet annual production up to 27.4 billion kilowatt hours by 2020 and then to 35.5 billion kilowatt hours by 2030. Uzbekistan presents a clearly less fraught electricity transit option than Afghanistan.