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Uzbekistan Plans Its Own Hydropower Plant

After years of opposing hydropower projects in neighboring countries, Uzbekistan has sprung a surprise by revealing it plans to pursue one of its own.

Sources at UzbekHydroEnergo, a company only recently created on the orders of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, told media on November 13 that the hydroelectricity generator will be built on the Pskem River, in the Tashkent region.

Sputnik news agency cited its source as saying the 400-megawatt plant would produce 900 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, making this second largest such facility in the country after the Soviet-built 620-megawatt Charvak hydroelectricity plant.

The Export-Import Bank of China is reportedly extending a $240 million loan toward the overall $800 million cost of completing the project.

The turn to hydropower can be added to the ever-growing slate of changes of heart effected in government policy since the ascent to power of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

In May, Mirziyoyev issued a decree leading to the founding of UzbekHydroEnergo and charged the company with implementing a five-year plan to overhaul the hydropower sector. That plan envisions the construction of 42 new hydroelectric plants and the modernization of 32 more.

Such efforts will go some way toward mitigating Uzbekistan’s failure to properly exploit its renewable energy potential. The Asian Development Bank, or ADB, estimates that only 1,800 megawatts of Uzbekistan’s 12,000 megawatt hydropower potential is currently developed.

Uzbekistan has long been steadfastly opposed to fresh projects to dam rivers in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, on the grounds that it could irreparably harm its agricultural interests. According to official statistics, Uzbekistan has four million hectares of land devoted to cultivating various types of crops. Much of that land is allocated to thirsty cotton crops.

Tashkent has gradually begun softening its position on hydropower, and Mirziyoyev has even expressed interest in getting involved in Kyrgyzstan’s projects. Uzbekistan’s stance on Tajikistan’s gigantic Roghun hydropower plant, which is under construction, still remains ambivalent, although Mirziyoyev has refrained from reprising his former virulent criticism of the project.

Energy industry expert Salih Halimov is sanguine about the potential of hydropower, however. 

“All existing hydroelectric stations work at less than full capacity. In the summer, a lot of the water is used for irrigation. For a hydropower plant to work constantly, you need large amounts of water, which our rivers simply do not have,” Halimov told EurasiaNet.org.

But experts broadly agree the status quo is not viable. The ADB estimates that 85 percent of all electricity currently generated in Uzbekistan relies on horrendously inefficient thermal power based on natural gas and steam turbine technology. Once you factor out hydro from the renewables category — which many energy experts insist on — less than 1 percent of Uzbekistan’s electricity needs are currently met by renewable resources. This is particularly woeful considering the Uzbek government has set its renewable energy capacity goal for 2031 at no less than 21 percent.

Solar power is another obvious option for Uzbekistan.

United Nations studies have shown that the country gets between 2,410 and 3,090 hours of sunshine every year. And the ADB estimates that about 3.8 million hectares of land in Uzbekistan meet the basic technical requirement for hosting solar energy facilities. 

But so far the initiative has been taken up most vigorously by the private sector. In April 2016, United Arab Emirates company ENESOL announced it had completed a mobile solar plant in Uzbekistan, the largest of its kind anywhere in the former Soviet Union. The 1.2 megawatt plant is used to power a natural gas field and construction site owned by Russian energy company LUKoil in an area near the city of Bukhara.

Uzbekistan Plans Its Own Hydropower Plant

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