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Kyrgyzstan Pins Hopes on Cheap Turkmen Power

Turkmenistan’s leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has flown to Kyrgyzstan with promises of enduring friendship and, on a more practical note, supplies of cheap electricity.

As ever though, natural gas was being discussed as Turkmenistan presses forward in its program to create as many export routes for its fuel as possible.

Speaking after talks in Bishkek on August 5, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev was fulsome in his gratitude for commitments that are still only notional.

“I want to thank you for your brotherly word about Turkmenistan’s readiness to deliver electricity at very low prices. I think that all the issues to do with its transportation will be settled,” he told his guest.

Easier said than done given the not inconsiderable issue of Uzbekistan, which lies between the two countries. Tashkent has historically proven an unreliable transit nation for power deliveries. In 2009, Uzbekistan interrupted electricity supplies from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan when it pulled out of the Soviet-engineered power grid that links Central Asian nations.

Ashgabat committed in 2013 to investing $5 billion over a seven year period into increasing its export capacity fivefold, so it should on paper have enough to go around. It is unclear, other than sheer brotherliness, why Turkmenistan would commit to subsidizing Kyrgyzstan’s notoriously inefficient electricity system.

Any Kyrgyz government unwilling to countenance political unrest will consider raising electricity tariffs at their own peril.

Talk of an electricity deal between Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan is not new. In 2014, Atambayev announced vaguely during a visit to Turkmenistan that some arrangement had been reached for the delivery of 1 billion kilowatt hours by this year. That came to nothing.

The Kyrgyz did, however, during the same visit manage to close a deal for Kazakhstan to provide 1.4 billion kilowatt hours per year. In June, Kyrgyzstan also agreed to buy 500 million kilowatt hours from Tajikistan over the June-September period. 

Power shortages are one in a raft of issues that threaten to tip Kyrgyzstan into full-blown crisis mode. 

A major factor in the problem is the alarmingly low water levels at the country’s main reservoirs, which are a core component of the hydropower generation system.

An equally pressing item on the agenda at the Bishkek talks was the current state of play with the planned pipeline joining Turkmenistan and China via Kyrgyzstan, as well as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This 1,000-kilometer route is to become the fourth strand of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline and is designed to carry 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually and is slated for completion in 2016.

“It is important that we are taking part in the construction of the pipeline from Turkmenistan to China. I think we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Atambayev said.

China National Petroleum Corp signed agreements with state energy transportation companies in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in March and August 2014 respectively, on the creation of joint ventures to construct sections of the pipeline in those two countries.

There is an unfortunate irony in such an ambitious regional projects being put on the agenda as border residents in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been clashing in a fresh territorial dispute. Failure to even zero in on agreements on delimiting territory does not bode well for the fate of energy cooperation.

More’s the pity for Kyrgyzstan, which endures in desperate need of an economic lifeline. The Central Asia-China gas pipeline stands to be an easy cash cow. Kyrgyzstan has said it stands to earn $2.5 billion over 30 years in gas transit fees, but the pipeline will need to be completed first, obviously.

Kyrgyzstan Pins Hopes on Cheap Turkmen Power

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