Tajikistan Hikes Electricity Exports During Blackouts, Casting Doubt on CASA
Proponents of a controversial plan to build a high-voltage electricity export line from Tajikistan to South Asia argue that the connection – known as CASA-1000 – will not be used in winter, when the country’s own citizens suffer debilitating electricity shortages.
But a senior Tajik official has undermined that promise, arguing that no matter how little it has for itself, Tajikistan must export electricity year-round lest any transmission equipment be looted.
Most regions of Tajikistan are currently receiving about 12 hours of electricity per day; some areas get less than 10 hours and, as anyone in remote areas can attest, the current is often so weak that it cannot charge a cell phone.
Despite these extended blackouts, Tajikistan increased its electricity exports to Afghanistan through existing lines from 30 million kWh in January 2014 to 55 million kWh last month, Asia-Plus reported on February 17, citing the State Statistics Agency.
Many ask the obvious question: Shouldn’t a country’s resources first serve its own people?
After years of speculation, now we have the answer. The head of the state electricity monopoly, Barki Tajik, says that the company must export in winter because it cannot risk allowing existing infrastructure to stand idle. “We keep the voltage in these lines because there is a high probability of equipment theft,” the Asia-Plus article quoted Rustam Rakhmatzoda as saying.
That confession should impact CASA-1000, which has been on the drawing board since 2007.
Proponents of the 1,200-kilometer transmission line, such as officials from the World Bank (which has pledged to pay for about half the project) and senior Tajik officials, insist CASA is only for summer exports. The idea is that CASA would give Tajikistan a way to sell its annual summer hydropower surpluses to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and would stand idle in winter. (Kyrgyzstan is supposed to participate as well, but officials there privately pooh-pooh the project.)
But what’s to say Rakhmatzoda’s logic – about keeping exports going year-round to make sure equipment doesn’t get stolen – won’t be applied to CASA?
Setting aside concerns about what Tajikistan’s venal leadership does with the money it earns selling electricity, it looks like planners working on the CASA budget – which has grown from $873 million in 2011 to $1.2 billion in 2014 – should include an army of security guards.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.