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Kyrgyzstan faces catastrophic energy crisis

Staff writer |
One neighbor cuts off the gas, another halts petrol deliveries and Mother Nature cooks up an unusually dry season. It all means Kyrgyzstan faces a potentially catastrophic energy crisis this winter.

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The predicament began with the sale of Kyrgyzstan’s gas transport monopoly, KyrgyzGaz, to Russian energy giant Gazprom in April. "We don’t need KyrgyzGas, we need gas," President Almazbek Atambayev said at the time, promising that Russia would guarantee a cheap and constant supply.

Soon after the deal was completed, however, Uzbekistan stopped gas deliveries, saying it had no contract to supply Gazprom. The two sides, with Kyrgyzstan in the middle, have not been able to reach an agreement.

On July 23, Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev acknowledged that Uzbekistan is not going to resume gas supplies anytime soon and instructed the country to prepare for winter shortages. Hundreds of thousands in Kyrgyzstan’s south remain without gas.

Southerners are turning to electricity, which is always in short supply, especially in winter when hydropower reservoirs are low. Officials now expect the gas crisis to drive electricity consumption up 20 percent this winter.

This summer, when they should be full, reservoirs that feed hydropower dams are unusually low. The level in the main Toktogul Reservoir is 22 percent below what it was this time last year. For now, Kyrgyzstan is importing electricity from Tajikistan, another country notorious for winter shortages.

"We need at least 16 billion cubic meters of water to pass the winter without regular blackouts," Rasul Umbetaliev, an energy expert in Bishkek, told EurasiaNet.org. "Most likely by October 1 we will have 12.5 or 12.6 billion, not more. So this shortage will affect the coming winter season."

That lack of water is hurting neighboring Kazakhstan, too. Since May, the two countries have been negotiating to exchange water from Kyrgyzstan’s reservoirs for electricity in the upcoming winter. The Kyrgyz Energy Ministry says the two countries reached an agreement in late July, whereby Kyrgyzstan started providing water to Kazakhstan on August 1. In exchange, Kazakhstan will provide winter electricity equivalent to the amount Kyrgyzstan could have produced with that water.

Kyrgyzstan is also negotiating to import 1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity from Kazakhstan this winter, but there appears to be a substantial disagreement on the price.


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