Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan cheer as CASA-1000 sputters back to life

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan cheer as CASA-1000 sputters back to life
The expectation is that Tajikistan will provide 70% of the power delivered via the CASA-1000 grid. Kyrgyzstan will provide the rest. / CASA-1000 website
By Eurasianet March 6, 2024

A dormant project to build high-voltage power lines from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to electricity-starved Afghanistan and Pakistan has sputtered back to life. 

Last month, the World Bank signalled that it would resume providing support for the $1.2bn Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project, better known as CASA-1000, after it received requests to do so from Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. 

“Construction in [Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan] is nearly complete and these countries have requested that CASA-1000 activities in Afghanistan resume to avoid the risk of the project becoming a stranded asset,” the World Bank said in a February 15 statement.

The decision has been greeted with considerable enthusiasm by stakeholders. 

Over the weekend, Kyrgyzstan’s Energy Ministry issued a statement, co-signed by Pakistan and Tajikistan, commending the World Bank for its decision.

The statement further reaffirmed the readiness of the three governments “to provide full support in fulfilling the preconditions agreed with the World Bank Board for the resumption of construction.” 

“This is a major step forward in the region's commitment to energy cooperation,” the March 2 statement read.

Progress on CASA-1000 was paused in August 2021, in the wake of the Taliban seizing power in Afghanistan. The World Bank says that around 18% of the towers in the Afghan section of the project had been erected by that stage

“About 95 percent of the materials and equipment needed to complete the project in the country had been supplied,” the bank said in a factsheet released last month.

But attempts by CASA countries to secure private funding to complete the work have proven unsuccessful, which prompted them to once more petition the World Bank.

The World Bank says the Afghanistan section of the project will be implemented in a ring-fenced manner to ensure eventual revenues are managed outside the country and not through systems administered by what the international community refers to as the Interim Taliban Authority, or ITA.

“During the project construction phase, the World Bank will make payments directly to the offshore accounts of international contractors and consultants, based on verification of invoices by the independent monitoring agency,” the bank said.

Speaking to the Bishkek-based The Times of Central Asia, a spokeswoman for the National Electric Grid of Kyrgyzstan, Elzada Sargashkayeva, said that the expectation is that Tajikistan will provide 70% of the power delivered via the CASA-1000 grid. Kyrgyzstan will provide the rest, she said.

There have been indications for months that the World Bank would throw its weight behind completing the Afghan segment of the project.

In November, the bank approved the payment of $21mn in grants to Tajikistan for construction work and the “strengthening of local governance in communities in the project catchment area within Tajikistan.”

In September, Kyrgyz Energy Minister Taalaibek Ibrayev announced to parliament that the World Bank had allocated $13.8mn to Bishkek for a similar purpose.

The idea for CASA-1000, which has been under development since 2018, is for upstream nations Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to trade 1,300 megawatts of excess hydropower produced in summer with chronically electricity starved Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Just how much excess power those countries will have to spare, though, is an open question. 

Tajikistan’s ambitions are contingent on its ability to complete the ambitiously colossal 335-metre-high Rogun hydropower plant. Work on the plant is proceeding apace, but costs are spiralling.

When work on Rogun started in 2008, the estimate for the overall cost stood at $3bn. In 2016, officials upped that figure to $3.9bn. In mid-2022, the Energy Ministry announced $5bn would be needed for full project implementation. On February 1, Energy Minister Daler Juma offered a new forecast: $6.2bn. 

The first generating units were put into operation in November 2018 and September 2019, but there has been limited progress since then. President Emomali Rahmon has said the plan is to put the third unit of the Rogun hydroelectric power station into operation in 2025.

Kyrgyzstan faces similar challenges. Its hopes are pinned heavily on completion of another large facility, Kambarata hydropower plant-1, or HPP-1.

The head of the Cabinet, Akylbek Japarov, on March 4 gave a visiting delegation of high-ranking World Bank representatives a presentation on the Kambarata HPP-1 project. He twinned that with a plea for help in bolstering Kyrgyzstan’s energy security and independence.

“We call on international institutions to provide support in this direction,” Japarov said.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.