Tajikistan: Power Rationing May Be Scrapped, But at What Cost?
Tajikistan’s president has hinted that the system of electricity rationing imposed annually over the winter months may be scrapped this year.
For the past 15 years or so, Tajikistan’s state power company has strictly limited the amount of electricity it has made available to households in many non-urban areas. Some localities have in recent years received about 10 hours or electricity daily — the amount can drop to as little as three hours in many places.
But speaking to a gathering of business community representatives on October 14, Rahmon said that if everybody pulls their weight and the private sector does its best not to waste resources, the amount of electricity generated would be enough to go around for everybody. His audience got to their feet and burst into applause at this passage of the president’s speech.
But there is a mystery here. No new power stations have gone online over the past year, so where is all this electricity going to come from?
The story goes back to October 28, when the Nurek hydropower station — by far the largest source of electricity in the country — experienced a major technical fault, unplugging massive swathes of the country for about three hours.
Hardest hit was the Tajik Aluminum Plant, or TALCO, which by some estimates uses up to 40 percent of the country’s electricity. The thinking is that the economic importance of TALCO makes diverting power to the company worth the sacrifice, although as EurasiaNet.org has reported in depth, much of the revenues generated never actually make it to state coffers.
On the day of the blackout, dozens of TALCO’s 300 or so operating electrolysis baths, which constitute a key stage of the alumina smelting process, were knocked offline. Some media reported that the real amount of equipment damaged may have been even greater. A single electrolysis bath consumes roughly enough electricity to supply an area of around 10,000 people, one former TALCO insider has told EurasiaNet.org.
And then in January, the government surprisingly announced that they were lifting the power rationing regime, claiming that they were implementing measures to enhance efficiency in the use of electricity and that output from the Dushanbe Thermal Power Plant No. 2 was being boosted.
A more satisfying explanation arrived in August, when the Economic Development and Trade Minister Nematullo Hikmatullozoda announced that TALCO had reduced its output of aluminum to 49,500 tons in the first six months of 2017, as compared to 73,500 tons over the same period the year before. Hikmatullozoda pinned the output decline on damage to a transformer that in turn put the electrolysis baths out of commission. All the same, he estimated that TALCO was expected to turn out 148,000 tons of finished aluminum by year’s end, although it is difficult to see how that will be possible.
TALCO is a privileged user of electricity — a status some attribute to the fact that the company is widely assumed to be linked to Rahmon’s brother-in-law Hasan Asadullozoda (né Sadulloev). As of the start of October, electricity is being provided to households at a rate of 16.85 dirams ($0.02) per kilowatt hour, up from 14.65 dirams ($0.017). TALCO, meanwhile, pays 7.20 dirams ($0.008) per kilowatt hour from May 1 to September 30, and then 11.80 dirams ($0.013) over the winter.
And even then, TALCO is an inveterate defaulter. So much so that in 2016, the government wiped $29.7 million off the company’s outstanding dues.