Rogun Hydropower Plant: An Opportunity for Connectedness
Tajikistan formally launched the Rogun Hydropower Plant (HPP)’s first turbine on November 16. Upon completion, Rogun will have six turbines, making it the most powerful facility on the Vakhsh River with a total capacity of 3,600 MW. This is roughly the equivalent of three nuclear power plants and will double Tajikistan’s annual electricity generation capacity. It will also the world’s tallest dam at 335 meters (1,099 feet) tall.
That is, of course, if the project is completed. The Rogun dam was first conceptualized by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but its construction hit numerous pitfalls along the way. The latest of these was strong objections of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov. His most infamous 2012 comments on the project indicated that the issue could turn violent: “Water resources could become a problem in the future that could escalate tensions not only in our region, but on every continent. I won’t name specific countries, but all of this could deteriorate to the point where not just serious confrontation, but even wars could be the result.” Karimov’s successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was initially silent on the Rogun plant, though he clearly prioritized mending fences with Tajikistan. Finally, President Mirziyoyev extended Uzbekistan’s official support in a presidential meeting in March.
Now, regional partners and multilateral institutions have lofty expectations for Rogun. World Bank Vice President Cyril Muller called the project a “source of much needed, inexpensive, renewable and reliable energy for the people of Tajikistan” in his speech at the turbine’s launch ceremony. Previous World Bank funded studies concluded that the plant could be the start of regional energy market in Central and East Asia, and could increase sustainability in its immediate neighborhood.
No doubt Tajikistan has high hopes for the plant as well. The country has a long history of power outages, especially during the winter. In 2013, Tajik establishments experienced on average 6.1 power outages per month, up from 3.6 in 2008. In the worst cases of electricity shortage, households would have less than four hours of electricity per day while temperatures dipped to 20 degrees below zero. Estimates indicate that Tajikistan is 3 to 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) short of fulfilling its citizens’ annual electricity needs. Upon completion, Rogun is expected to generate an additional 13 billion kWh of electricity annually—more than covering that difference.
This surplus could drastically change energy trade in the region. Tajikistan is a major electricity exporter during the spring, supplying Afghanistan and, more recently, Uzbekistan with power from April until September. However, come winter, Tajikistan becomes an electricity importer. An additional 13 billion kWh could at least prevent Tajikistan from relying on imports and at most could allow it to continue exporting throughout the colder months. Uzbekistan, who also suffers from energy shortages in winter, has reportedly already expressed interest in such a deal. Multilateral programs like CASA-1000 would also benefit from Tajikistani electricity exports.
Rogun is an opportunity for increased connectivity in the region. It is telling that the launch ceremony was attended by representatives from Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Rogun is far from a fait accompli—its stature alone is only a fifth of what the final product is projected to be, not to mention that there are still five turbines yet to be built. However, a successful Rogun could be boost for many Central Asian countries, and it seems that Tajikistan has many of its neighbors in its corner.