Kyrgyzstan reported as “irked” by neighbour Uzbekistan’s “grandiose hydropower plans”

By bne IntelliNews March 27, 2024

Kyrgyzstan, a country perpetually battling a shortage of water resources, is reportedly irked by neighbour Uzbekistan’s “grandiose hydropower development plans”.

The issue has come to the fore this week with Uzbekistan’s launching of the construction of six hydroelectric power plants (HPPs), with a combined capacity of 228 megawatts, on the Naryn River in Namangan region, bordering western Kyrgyzstan.

The Times of Central Asia on March 27 reported irritation in Kyrgyzstan, noting that the country's water deficit is in part caused by its swapping of water with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in exchange for electricity.

The HPPs, being built by Uzbekhydroenergo at a cost of $434mn, are to generate up to 1bn kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to provide power for 430,000 households. This output will mean Uzbekistan can save up to 310mn cubic metres of gas annually, to help alleviate energy shortages that have lately seen Tashkent turn to Russia for more gas.

Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, is reliant on electricity imports that amount to 3bn kWh of electricity delivered by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan during the autumn and winter seasons. In return for the electricity, Kyrgyzstan provides its two neighbours with water in the summer under a barter arrangement.

However, a worrying situation has developed at Toktogul Reservoir, the main HPP reservoir in Kyrgyzstan. It is designed to hold 19.2-19.6bn cubic metres (bcm) of water, but in early March Kyrgyz Deputy Energy Minister Talaibek Baigaziyev said people urgently needed to curtail their electricity usage, with the Toktogul water level as low as 7.7 bcm versus a normal level of 17.3 bcm. If the level reaches the “dead level”, namely anything below 6.5 bcm, the Toktogul HPP will stop functioning.

So bad are Kyrgyzstan’s difficulties with power shortages that its energy sector has been placed under a state of emergency that will run to the end of 2026 as officials attempt to deliver energy generation projects that will solve the dilemma.

Kyrgyzstan has plans to launch 11 of its own HPPs this year, five large and six small.

Bulat Yesekin, an expert on environmental policy and institutional frameworks for environmental protection, was cited by The Times of Central Asia as saying that “large hydropower plants further aggravate the problem of water supply and disrupt environmental sustainability.

“All over the world today there are campaigns to demolish hydroelectric dams and restore the natural regime of rivers. Only the preservation of natural river regimes can reduce water scarcity and create a more reliable basis for water supply for agriculture and industry.”

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