Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kyrgyz Fear Gap in Power Supply

By Bermet Mambetshaeva











Kyrgyzstan is growing increasingly worried that its large neighbour Kazakstan might live up to a threat to withdraw from Central Asia’s integrated electricity grid.

The mountainous terrain of Kyrgyzstan allows it to generate hydroelectricity, but some of the power lines connecting one part of the country with another go through Kazakstan, because boundaries between republics mattered little to the Soviet authorities when they created a shared power network for the region.

Two power outages in the Kyrgyz national grid prompted Kazakstan to revisit a threat to leave the shared network which it began making back in 2009. (See Power Struggle Threatens Central Asian Electricity Grid.)

Kyrgyz prime minister Almazbek Atambaev has visited Kazakstan and returned with the good news that the decision to withdraw was not after all imminent. But Kyrgyzstan has been reminded of just how vulnerable it is. Losing the use of Kazak power lines would mean that while electricity is available in the south, northern regions of the country would suffer shortages over the colder months of the year.

Experts say it is not only Kyrgyzstan that would suffer if the common grid collapsed, as all the Central Asian states are independent when it comes to energy. Mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have most of of the region’s water resources, allowing them to benefit from hydroelectric power, whereas Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan have substantial oil and gas deposits but rely on their smaller neighbours for water. This leads to disputes, for example when Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan withhold water for the winter, the time they need it most for electricity production, while the lowland states want to irrigate their crops in spring and summer.

The audio programme, in Russian and Kyrgyz, went out on national radio stations in Kyrgyzstan, as part of IWPR project work funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.