Power station breaks down in north Kazakhstan in -30C

ALMATY/NOV. 28 2022 (The Bulletin) — A power station broke down in north Kazakhstan forcing people to freeze through temperatures of minus 30C and the government to sack a regional governor.

The power blackout in Ekibastuz, near Pavlodar, followed warnings from Uzbekistan that Central Asia’s entire power generation system was on the verge of a breakdown as it struggled to cope with a seasonal surge in demand.

The Kazakh government was quick to blame Pavlodarenergo, a subsidiary of the privately-owned Central Asian Electric Power Corporation (CAEPCO), that owns power stations in the north of the country.

“President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has instructed Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov to study the issue of nationalising problematic energy assets,” said Ruslan Zheldibay, a presidential spokesman. 

Several days after the blackout the authorities were still struggling to reconnect power to some apartment blocks, frustrating residents.

Desperate to contain the political fallout from the power station breakdown, Mr Tokayev sacked the Pavlodar regional governor Abylkair Skakov but angry residents said that this was blame shifting and not enough was being done to help. Volunteers also said that incompetence by the local authorities was making the situation worse.

“They put hot water straight into radiators which instead of heating, burst,” said one volunteer called Zhuldyz. “Volunteers are left alone with crowds of angry citizens.”

CAEPCO and the Kazakh government have clashed before. Last year the Kazakh government ordered power to be cut to energy-intensive crypto currency miners after a series of blackouts. The state-owned national grid operator, KEGOC, also introduced a series of power cuts to try to conserve energy.

But in January last year, huge blackouts hit southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. They all operate on the same Soviet grid system and a surge in demand overloaded the regional system.

Governments in Central Asia have invested billions into increasing power supplies to meet increased demand, pushed up mainly by rising living standards. 

The Uzbek authorities said that they had inaugurated another power plant in the Khovos region, southern Uzbekistan, on Nov. 23 that is powerful enough to generate electricity for another 230,000 homes. The Kyrgyz government said that it is discussing building a nuclear power station with Russia.

Analysts, though, have said that the main problem with power production and distribution in Central Asia lies with the Soviet-era grid which has not been updated.


— This story was published in issue 530 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on Dec. 4 2022

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2022

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