TASHKENT/JAN. 18 2021 (The Bulletin) — Uzbekistan’s government announced a raft of reforms to its under-pressure power production sector that it hopes will fix outages that have caused shortages and disrupted supplies this winter.
But, a couple of days after publishing its plans to build nine new power plants and to tear down a government monopoly that has run the power generation system in Uzbekistan since it was set up in the Soviet Union, news filtered through that a blast at a thermal power plant had killed three workers.
Media reports said that the three workers were part of a team that were renovating and upgrading the Angren thermal power plant, renovated in 2016 by a Chinese company, near the Uzbek capital.
The blast was triggered by a mixture of coal and dust and air, the Uzbek emergencies ministry said, and immediately highlighted what campaigners have said is the cavalier attitude of Uzbek officials to health and safety issues.
Demand for power in Uzbekistan has soared this year, driven up by rising living standards and also an exceptionally cold winter. The shortages have triggered protest across the country and blackouts that have hit industry and dented confidence in the government which has resorted to buying extra supplies from neighbouring countries.
As well as commissioning nine new thermal power stations across the country, the most populous in Central Asia, the Uzbek government also said that it would issue permits to private companies to import electricity and to set up an internal market system.
Analysts said that this was an important step towards the market reform needed to strip away a central Soviet system. They have said that the centralised system is cumbersome and not nimble enough to respond to large increases in demand, both seasonal and systemic.
— This story was first published in issue 469 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021