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Lights Out In Kyrgyzstan

Nights will be a little darker in Bishkek this winter.
Nights will be a little darker in Bishkek this winter.

It was obvious months ago that Kyrgyzstan would be facing electricity problems by the end of the year. Now, as the calendar moves into October, that time has arrived.

The head of the National Energy Holding Company, Talaybek Baygaziev, has warned of impending power shortages and said one way the state company will be saving electricity is by giving cities and towns over to the dark of night.

Kyrgyzstan uses hydropower to generate most of its electricity, and this has been a drought year.

The volume of water in the Toktogul hydropower plant (HPP), which supplies some 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan's electricity, is currently 12.3 billion cubic meters (bcm), compared to 15.2 bcm at this time last year.

On September 25, the chairman of the cabinet of ministers, Ulukbek Maripov, instructed the National Energy Holding Company to take all necessary measures to ensure the Toktogul reservoir had sufficient water -- 15-16 bcm -- in it by April 2022.

That means less water released to power the turbines at the Toktogul HPP.

So to help keep electricity in people's homes, Baygaziev said the lights will have to go out on the streets.

Baygaziev said that to meet the energy needs of the autumn-winter period this year, the power company will impose "restrictions on the lighting of secondary streets, advertisements, and facades of shops, cafes, and other nonresidential customers."

The National Energy Holding Company oversees the five companies that provide electricity and heating to regions around Kyrgyzstan, and the order has gone out to those companies to cut electricity to the places that Baygaziev mentioned.

However, Baygaziev's attempts to justify the cuts elicited some derision from media outlet, which published what it described as Baygaziev's top 10 quotes on the targets of the cutoffs.

Of electric signs on restaurants, Baygaziev said, "An advertisement for restaurants -- for their food. If a person comes to eat, they know about this, and there is no need to turn on 100 light bulbs."

Baygaziev also said the lights would be turned off in city parks, something that was not on his list.

"The parks we have are lit until morning. Normal people go out walking before 10-11 (p.m.) and after that they go to rest," Baygaziev said. "A park also needs to rest."

Kyrgyzstan imports electricity from other Central Asian countries, and Baygaziev mentioned that one-third of the electricity Kyrgyzstan currently consumes is imported.

The National Energy Holding Company's solution is radical, but it comes out of desperation.

The streets of Kyrgyzstan's cities, including Bishkek, are poorly lit even with all the lights turned on; in non-downtown neighborhoods, it is nearly pitch black on moonless nights despite the lighting from residences.

But the coldest months of the year are coming soon.

And although Azamat Kuramaev, the press secretary for the National Energy Holding Company, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, that there were so far no restrictions on home use of electricity, the shortages are likely to worsen as winter sets in.

The dark nights of winter in towns and cities won't make either Kyrgyzstan's power companies or the government more popular.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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