Tajiks Hope Plant Ends Energy Crisis

ReutersA view of the UES-built Sangtuda-1 power plant, which opened Sunday about 170 kilometers south of Dushanbe.
SANGTUDA, Tajikistan -- Tajikistan, its utilities paralyzed by the coldest winter in decades, on Sunday opened a new Russian-built power plant hailed by the authorities as a step toward solving an energy crisis.

Millions of Tajiks were struggling to survive without heating and electricity in their homes as temperatures plunged to below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon, speaking at the opening ceremony of the Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric power plant, said additional electricity capacity would help avoid such crises in the future.

"This year's winter has proved the necessity of solving Tajikistan's energy problems as quickly as possible," he said during the Soviet-style ceremony, its site festooned with flags and portraits of Rakhmon and President Vladimir Putin.

Its infrastructure ruined in a 1990s civil war, Tajikistan has long experienced power shortages in winter months when temperatures usually stay above minus 5 C. This winter's bitter cold caught the authorities off guard, forcing the government to resort to daily rations of electricity, water and gas.

But with its daily production capacity of 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, Sangtuda-1 is too small to make any immediate change. By comparison, the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, where electricity is rationed to just a few hours a day, consumes about 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity daily.

The $500 million plant, its construction financed by United Energy System, is due to reach full capacity of 2.7 million kilowatt-hours later this year.

The lack of central heating and electricity rations are fueling discontent. Dushanbe residents said heating was working only in the center of the city and that no electricity at night made it impossible to use electric heating devices to keep apartments warm.