Category Archives: Energy

“It Has Become Hard to Breathe”: Tajikistan’s Capital Gets a Coal Plant… and Hazardous Dust

dushanbecoalplant5-200x200As Dushanbe’s new coal-fired power plant begins to supply electricity, rising levels of coal dust set off alarm bells in the city.

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Tajikistan Secures New Chinese Loans and Investment

On June 7, Tajikistani President Emomali Rahmon returned home from a week-long tour of China. The tour included a five-day state visit followed by Rahmon’s participation in the 12th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Beijing. Following the trip, the Tajik President’s office announced that ten new deals signed in Beijing would bring Tajikistan about $1 billion in new Chinese investment, loans and aid. Experts suggest that the new deals will increase China’s economic clout in Tajikistan, giving Rahmon more leverage in dealings with Moscow.

As part of the deals inked during the visit, Beijing has pledged to invest some $600 million to build a large cement plant in Tajikistan’s southern district of Shahritus, on the border with Uzbekistan. When completed, the plant is expected to produce three million metric tons of cement annually, using local limestone reserves. According to Rahmon’s press service, the plant will be a joint project between the Chinese government-run National Materials Group Corporation and the state-owned Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco) (president.tj, June 7). Eager to break its dependence on cement imports, Dushanbe previously negotiated similar deals with Tehran and Islamabad (news.tj, June 11, 2011; June 1). However, joint projects with Iran and Pakistan have taken too long to get off the ground, leading Tajikistan to seek Chinese investment instead.

Beijing has also pledged to build a coal-driven combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. Although negotiated over a year ago, the $200 million project stalled because of disagreements over the plant’s technical specifications. Following Rahmon’s return from Beijing, it was announced that Chinese specialists will begin the construction of the plant “within the next several days” and will complete the project within a year. The CHP plant project is part of the Tajikistani government’s effort to use the country’s coal resources in tackling power shortages. China is also helping Tajikistan’s state-owned cement factory in Dushanbe and a number of other enterprises to switch from imported natural gas to local coal (president.tj, June 7; news.tj, April 28, 2011).
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Filed under Energy, Industry, Tajik-Chinese relations, Tajikistan

The Rogun Dam Controversy: Is Compromise Possible?

Heated disputes over the allocation of energy and water have been the defining feature of relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over much of the last decade. Although the distrust between the two countries has deep historical roots, the present tensions revolve primarily around the Rogun Dam project. So far, both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been unwilling to discuss solutions that would be acceptable to both countries. Yet, without a compromise over Rogun, it is highly unlikely that the strained relations between the two neighboring states will go back to normal. Is compromise over the dam project possible?

BACKGROUND: The most contentious feature of the Rogun Dam that Tajikistan has been building since 2006 is its height. The 335-meter giant was designed by Soviet engineers in the 1970s to overtake Norak – also on the Vakhsh River in Tajikistan – as the world’s highest dam. In addition to reflecting the overall Soviet obsession with larger-than-needed engineering projects, the massive dam made sense from a purely utilitarian perspective. It was designed to create a huge reservoir that would irrigate over three million hectares of land in downstream countries, particularly in Uzbekistan, and enable multi-year water storage and regulation for regional irrigation purposes. It was also designed to increase hydroelectricity generation and enable the construction of major industrial enterprises in Tajikistan. Although the construction began in 1982, the break-up of the Soviet Union prevented the project from completion.

Emerging from a devastating civil war and facing recurrent power shortages in the 2000s, Tajikistan has sought to utilize its primary resource – an enormous potential for hydropower production – to develop into a prosperous state. The Rogun Dam scheme became the cornerstone of the Tajik government’s ambitious economic development program. The dam has been promoted as a shortcut to energy independence and economic growth. If the dam is completed, it will enable Tajikistan to generate about 13 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This will not only help the country meet all of its domestic needs but will also make Tajikistan a net exporter of electricity. What experts in Dushanbe prefer not to mention is that the generation of this amount of electricity does not require a 335-meter high dam. By building the dam based on the original Soviet blueprint, Tajikistan seeks to be able to control the flow of the Vakhsh River, including for political purposes.
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Filed under Authoritarianism, Energy, Nation Building, Tajik-Uzbek relations, Tajikistan

Rahmon Balances Domestic and Foreign Pressures Over Rogun Project

On November 3, Tajik authorities announced that they had completed the main diversion tunnel of the Rogun Dam project. This means that it is now technically possible to divert the Vakhsh River from the part of the valley in which they plan to place the giant dam. Dewatering the construction areas will allow the authorities to start building the facility (www.avesta.tj, November 3).

According to Tajik hydropower experts, there are strong technical reasons for blocking the river as soon as possible. The lake created behind the temporary dam when the river is diverted will enable the authorities to accumulate water next spring and summer. This water can be released in winter so that downstream hydropower plants (HPPs) convert it into additional electricity, helping the country to prevent blackouts (www.avesta.tj, November 3). Besides, the lake will stop the sedimentation of the Norak HPP’s reservoir further downstream, which is reportedly close to reaching a critical level (www.regnum.ru, November 7). Any serious breakdown of the Norak facility, which produces about 70 percent of the country’s electricity output, will have catastrophic consequences for the country. Overall, according to the company building the dam, “the diversion of the river is technically possible now,” but, “the decision to block the river flow is essentially political and has to come from the highest level” (www.avesta.tj, November 3), that is, from the country’s president.
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Tajikistan Suspends Rogun Dam Resettlement Program

On June 1, World Bank director of strategy and operations in Europe and Central Asia Theodore Ahlers announced that the Tajik government temporarily put a halt to a program for resettling tens of thousands of villagers from the projected reservoir area of the giant Rogun Dam. According to Ahlers, the resettlement was suspended until the results of two ongoing World Bank commissioned studies, which look at the dam’s economic feasibility and its potential social and environmental impact, become available. These studies, expected to be completed in late 2012, will help the Tajik authorities to develop a proper resettlement framework based on the needs of the affected populations.

The effort to resettle people from the zone that will be flooded behind what is projected to become the world’s tallest dam was launched in 2009. A special government regulation adopted in January 2009 envisaged the moving of more than 4,700 families, or about 30,000 people, from 63 villages in the districts of Rogun and Nurobod to Dangara, Tursunzade, and Darband. According to official reports, 600 families were resettled from the projected reservoir area in 2009, and about 1,000 families were relocated in 2010. These reports fail to mention, however, that many of the formally resettled families, particularly elderly family members, have continued living in their native villages.
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Filed under Energy, Resettlement, Tajik-Uzbek relations, Tajikistan