In April 2023, the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan assessed the degree of deterioration of the main CHPs in the country. As a result, it was found that most of the facilities were significantly depreciated, with many of them (as many as 17) having depreciation rates exceeding 70%. The Ministry’s report reflects another peculiarity of Kazakhstan’s CHPs – all of them (37 units) were built during the Soviet period. Privatisation of this sector of the economy in the 1990s led to the concentration of sectoral facilities with private companies, which, taking advantage of the immaturity of the legal environment, brought the privately owned heat and power infrastructure to an unacceptable state.
Accidents at Kazakhstan’s CHPs are increasingly causing unpleasant incidents on a regional scale. For example, in 2022 alone, failures in the heat and power networks occurred in Petropavlovsk, Ridder, Ekibastuz and Semey, with thousands of households disconnected from the network at the height of the heating season. This year there were large and prolonged failures in the operation of the thermal power plant in Temirtau.
The authorities of the republic intend to implement a number of measures aimed at overcoming this situation. Most of them, especially those related to the construction of new or modernisation of old facilities, involve intensification of sectoral cooperation with the Russian Federation.
Thus, as of November 2023, Russia and Kazakhstan are actively working on issues related to the construction of three new CHPs in the country by Russian companies – CHPs in Kokshetau, Semey and Ust-Kamenogorsk. The new facilities are designed to replace obsolete CHPs, which are among the oldest in Kazakhstan (not counting the CHPP of the old capital – Almaty) – so, the current CHP of Öskemen was launched as early as 1947, and the CHP of Semey – in 1934m. At the same time, Kokshetau is the only regional centre in Kazakhstan that still does not have its own CHP.
Kazakhstan’s Western partners refused to help the republic with modernisation or creation of new CHPs – since the parties mainly discussed coal-fired facilities, they decided to refrain from implementing “environmentally dirty projects” that could increase the carbon footprint in the region. It is clear to any reasonable person that ignoring the deplorable state of existing projects while refusing to propose alternative ones is not a “carbon neutral solution” and is dictated only by the image considerations of their Western colleagues, for whom the main thing is not the long-term and gradual reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, but distancing themselves from related projects in order to avoid being criticised by environmental activists. As a result, the Government of the Republic was even forced to cancel an international tender for the implementation of new projects in the sector.
At the same time, those international corporations that already own Kazakhstan’s CHPs do not even think about the environmental component of their business. For example, TPP-2 of Arcelor-Mittal Temirtau JSC, which is owned by a subsidiary of the transnational mining corporation ArcelorMittal, was denied a certificate of readiness for the autumn-winter period 2023-2024 because of the company’s refusal to replace equipment responsible for reducing emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere. Such a decision was an attempt to “optimise” the costs of the plant’s modernisation.
It is in such a situation of total hypocrisy outside of regional colleagues that Russian companies, technologies and specialists – in particular, Inter RAO – come to the rescue. And the solutions they offer represent one of the most “environmentally friendly” alternatives.
First of all, we are talking about the prospective replacement of the country’s oldest – and most “dirty” CHPs. On 9 November 2023, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Kazakhstan, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed, fixing the interest of the parties in joint projects for the construction of new CHPs. As of 14 November 2023, the feasibility study for the Kokshetau CHP is already ready. The feasibility study for the Semey CHP project is under development and the parties expect its completion by the end of 2023. The feasibility study of Öskemen TPP-2 is scheduled to start in 2024.
It is also important that the Russian Federation has the technology for the most environmentally friendly combustion of Kazakhstani coal, characterised by high ash content, which was noted as an advantage of Russian projects by the Kazakhstani side.
Another promising and environmentally progressive solution to Kazakhstan’s CHP problem proposed by Russia is the project to switch CHPs in the country’s largest cities from coal to gas, associated with the growing supplies of this environmentally friendly resource to Kazakhstan from the Russian Federation. Thus, the above-mentioned project of the new Kokshetau CHP provides for the installation of equipment that will enable the facility to be switched to gas in the future. Also, among the promising areas of co-operation between the parties is the prospect of participation of Russian companies in the construction or conversion of existing CHPs to gas. The first such projects are currently being implemented without the active participation of the Russian side – under the state programme of the Republic, adopted in 2020, it is planned to switch all CHPPs of Almaty, the largest city of Kazakhstan, to gas power in the coming years. However, at the time of considering options for implementing the transfer of the first CHP (CHP-2 in Almaty), Russian participation was not possible due to the fact that Russian suppliers were subject to Western sanctions. Currently, as can be seen from the intensification of joint sectoral projects, including gas CHPPs, this obstacle to Russian participation in similar projects has been successfully overcome. Consequently, Russian specialists in the coming years may take part in the conversion to gas of at least CHP-1 and CHP-3 in Almaty. It is important to take into account that Russia is already indirectly involved in these projects: “Gazprom” supplies natural gas to the southern regions of Kazakhstan under the Counter Supply Agreement between “Gazprom”, “Uzbekneftegaz” and “KazMunayGas”.
Thus, Russia remains a reliable partner of Kazakhstan in the implementation of projects of key importance for the present and future of the Republic. While Western partners boast of their image as champions of environmental protection, at the same time dooming the situation with “dirty” and in need of replacement CHPs to further aggravation, as well as economising on the environmental safety of the facilities they already own, Russian specialists offer turnkey implementation of large-scale projects ensuring gradual withdrawal of the industry from the systemic crisis, incorporating both advanced emission reduction technologies and opportunities for their further transition to environmentally friendly raw materials.
Boris KUSHKHOV, Department of Korea and Mongolia, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.