21.12.2023 Author: Boris Kushhov

Hydropower of Tajikistan – rely on historical partners and respect the interests of neighbors

Hydropower of Tajikistan

Tajikistan is one of the most mountainous countries in Central Asia and the world, which makes hydropower one of the country’s most important industries. The Panj, the Vakhsh, the Kofarnihon, and the Zarafshon are the republic’s water and energy resources, which were projected to be 527 billion KWh per year (the eighth indication in the world), with the republic developing only 2%.  The complete utilization of all hydro resources in energy needs will theoretically be enough to power all of Central Asia with electricity three times over.  Tajikistan values its ecologically friendly energy sector in particular. Emomali Rahmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan, stated at the last SPECA summit that his country “ranks sixth in the world in terms of green energy.” Previously, the country was ranked one of the nations with the lowest share of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Investments in Tajikistan’s hydropower sector have totaled two billion dollars since the country’s independence, which is rather outstanding for a country with a GDP of less than 11 billion dollars in 2022. It has constructed Sangtuda-1 HPP  (670MW), Sangtuda-2 HPP (220MW), and a number of small hydropower plants over the years.

Foreign partners actively participated in the construction of Tajikistan’s HPPs; for example, Sangtuda Hydroelectric Power Plant, the country’s second-most powerful HPP, was built jointly with Russian specialists using Russian funds and is now a joint venture between the two countries; 75%-1 of the shares are controlled by Russian companies.
The HPP currently generates roughly 11% of the total electricity produced in the country.

There are also a lot of projects in the country that were launched during the Tajik SSR but are now dormant. The Rogun HPP is the largest of them. The completion of the hydroelectric power plant seemed unattainable for a small nation: the project will cost $8 billion, and its implementation will include the construction of the world’s tallest dam (335 meters!) on unstable rocks in an area with a high seismic risk. However, if the HPP is successfully put into service, it will produce up to 45% of all the electricity produced in the nation.

For many years, Tajikistan’s Western allies have been closely monitoring the project because they assume that if they back its completion, the country would be able to become completely independent of the Russian Federation in terms of energy.  However, in contrast to the opinions of Western colleagues who are still not involved in the construction, the Russian company RUSAL completed the feasibility study project and the preliminary work for the resumption of construction using its funds (up to $1 billion) in accordance with the 2004 agreement. But when these works were completed, the Tajik side decided to discontinue the project because “Russia defended Uzbekistan’s interests in the project,” trying to work out with the neighboring state the maximum limits of water withdrawal for the HPP’s needs.
It was not popular during those years to discuss “sustainable development” in Central Asia or to focus on Russia’s relations with its neighbors, which were far from reaching the historical peak of partnership at the time, from Uzbekistan’s perspective.

No assistance from the West has arrived; Tajikistan is currently engaged in modestly successful negotiations with its European counterparts, for whose sake, perhaps, the arrangement with RUSAL was ended. Active discussions were held with German, Austrian, Italian companies, the prospects of supplying units were discussed even with Ukraine. Because of this, Tajikistan has struggled for many years to raise even 500 million dollars (1/16 of the project cost) at the cost of Eurobonds.. Currently, the budget is providing funding for the unattainable project; therefore, in 2024, an additional 500 million dollars, or one-sixteenth of the total cost, are anticipated to come from the national budget.

Colleagues from the West are more likely to work toward a publicity stunt than to address the issues facing the growth of developing nations. For instance, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs awarded the golden certificate to the Sebzor HPP, constructed in collaboration with German sponsors and contractors, which has a capacity of only 11 MW, recognizing it as “the first project in the world to be certified according to the International Hydropower Sustainability Standard.” The project has a big impact on advancing Western objectives and technologies. Tajikistan’s and Central Asia’s tasks are insignificant,
and no additional cooperative ventures of this type have been announced.
With the exception of one project being undertaken by Western partners to reconstruct specific HPPs, it should be mentioned that since 2019, the Kayrakkum HPP has been renovated, with the goal of increasing the plant’s capacity by over 40%.
The project is nearing completion. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provided $200 million for the reconstruction, while French, Swiss, and Spanish companies are the project’s contractors. Even then, the capacity increase of only 50 MWh is not even close to the 670 MWh Russian Sangtuda HPP project, which was constructed which is called which is called “from scratch”.

The CASA-1000 electricity transmission project to guarantee electricity exports from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan is the source of great promise for Tajikistan’s electric power industry.  The work began in 2016. However, there are unsurmountable barriers to this line’s realization: the republic’s troublesome recent relations with Afghanistan, as well as the existence of several conflicts in relations with Kyrgyzstan. Additionally, disappointed are investors, which Tajikistan has once again identified as Western funds and banks.  Pakistan, the project’s primary electricity user, has chosen to source its electricity from China because it is more affordable and more stable.

The Russian President appears to have communicated to the Tajik counterpart on November 22 that the PJSC RusHydro had expressed its intention to take part in the design of new hydro-energy complexes in Tajikistan.
The announcement that Tajikistan has negotiated favorable loans totaling over 900 million dollars with China and the Arab countries is also heartening. The republic with abundant water resources appears to be once more afforded the opportunity to depend on its continental political and economic allies, who insist on upholding the interests of their surrounding nations.
It remains to be seen whether Tajikistan will change its approach to energy diplomacy, but the subject is now more pertinent and significant.


Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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