BISHKEK (TCA) — Despite an expensive modernization, an accident occurred at the Bishkek thermal power plant last Friday. As a result, most of the city residents remained without heating when the air temperature outside was minus 20 degrees Celsius and below, including hospitals and schools. Schoolchildren are on an unplanned vacation until February 3.
Bishkek Mayor Albek Ibraimov promised the citizens that all the malfunctions would be eliminated on Saturday by 10 pm, but the promises did not come true. People, trying to keep warm in cold apartments, used electric heaters and gas burners. The power grid overloaded and many homes suffered from blackouts.
Daily electricity consumption in Kyrgyzstan reached a record high on January 29, amounting to 70.34 million kWh, the National Electric Network of Kyrgyzstan JSC which owns the Bishkek TPP reported. Over the past three days, natural gas consumption in Bishkek has increased by 40 percent.
Only on January 30, Bishkek residents finally began to receive heat. On January 31, the temperature in the heating network has risen slightly. To warm up homes and apartments takes time, the National Energy Holding said.
Not only journalists, but also city residents raised questions about the modernization of the Bishkek TPP, which the authorities announced among key elements of energy independence. "The completion of the project is among the achievements to improve the reliability of providing high-quality electricity and heat supply to Bishkek population," the National Energy Holding said last year.
Accident at Bishkek Thermal Power Plant
On January 26, the workload was reduced from 340 MW to 154 MW at the Bishkek TPP due to “the temporary failure of the feeding water supply equipment for old boiler units," the Electric Stations said.
The accident started at the chemical workshop because of a malfunction of the pump supplying water to the boiler units. The pumps were included in the modernization project, but their reconstruction has not yet been carried out. Later, one of the boilers went out of operation, Bishkek TPP Director Omurkul uulu Nurlan said at a press conference on January 29.
Ten boilers out of the existing 18 and five turbine units out of the nine existing ones are now operating, the TPP management said on January 30.
On January 30, Deputy Prime Minister Askarbek Shadiev, who is in charge of the fuel and energy sector, on behalf of the Government apologized to the Bishkek residents for the inconvenience caused.
The Prosecutor General's Office has initiated a criminal investigation on negligence charges and a government commission will investigate the causes of the power plant’s failure.
Prime Minister Sapar Isakov recommended the National Energy Holding to fire First Deputy General Director of the Electric Stations JSC Berdibek Borkoyev and Bishkek TPP Director Omurkul uulu Nurlan.
Parliament deputies demand to set up a commission to investigate the modernization of the Bishkek TPP by the Chinese company ТВЕА and the use of $386 million spent for the modernization.
The modernization of the Bishkek TPP, which has been operating since 1961, began in 2015 and was completed in 2017. The renewed station was inaugurated on August 30, 2017.
On July 16, 2013, a contract to implement the Modernization of the Bishkek TPP project worth $386 million was signed between the Electric Stations JSC and the Chinese company TBEA.
Under a loan agreement between the Kyrgyz Government and the Export-Import Bank of China, the Kyrgyz Finance Ministry was granted a $386 million soft loan at a 2% interest rate per annum and a maturity of 20 years. The loan was issued without collateral, under the guarantee of the Kyrgyz Government.
The Electric Stations pays out the loan to the Kyrgyz Finance Ministry which repays to the Export-Import Bank of China.
According to the audit of the Accounts Chamber of Kyrgyzstan, the modernization of the Bishkek TPP was carried out without estimates, and there was no detailed calculation and specific estimates for the cost of the TPP reconstruction when the contract was signed.
Moreover, TBEA put forward its term that the Electric Stations could take a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China if they sign the contract with this company. The amount of the $386 million contract was approved according to TBEA’s proposal based on the comparison with world prices for similar heating plants construction.
According to ex-director of the Bishkek TPP Lev Vasiliev, who managed the enterprise for 30 years, the most important thing is that nobody of the TPP staff was injured, and the equipment of the chemical workshop was maintained. Several capacities were withdrawn from operation to prevent damage, but they are being restored, and everything takes time.
Every block, turbine, and boiler should be thoroughly tested last summer, believes Professor of Kyrgyz Technical University Kaly Rakhimov. Boilers are most vulnerable units and they often fail. To replace the boilers it was necessary to allocate more money, and fewer accidents would have happened. Other units including turbines, generators and transformers can work for fifty years, he added.
According to energy expert Rasul Umbetaliev, the accident was expected because the Bishkek TPP is physically and morally worn out. In his opinion, the very idea of modernizing the TPP was wrong. Several years ago Umbetaliev proposed to construct four small thermal power stations outside the city instead of spending money for the reconstruction of the large and outdated power plant in the city.
The energy industry should have sources of self-sufficiency in order not to hamper the economic development of the country, expert Kubat Rakhimov told K-News. The power industry “needs a reboot” which implies that the industry should be transparent without any quasi-holdings and local distribution companies, he added. The experience of the Belarusian energy company, Belenergo, is a good example where one company manages everything, from energy generation to supplying it to end users.
Kyrgyzstan's energy industry has become a commodity in the hands of officials. This gives them the opportunity to grow rich, but the industry itself does not develop, Rakhimov added. To improve the situation, political will is needed.
To revive the energy industry, it is also necessary to carry out energy-efficiency measures. Instead of working for preemption, the state simply subsidizes unprofitable enterprises, the expert said.
The sense of technological discipline has been lost in Kyrgyzstan, energy expert Nikolai Kravtsov told Tazabek information agency. For this reason, accidents occur in the country, and they will continue unless the style and methods of management change, he added.
He does not think the arguments of the Electric Stations management about the obsolete equipment are justified. The cause of the accident lies in the negligence of the leadership of the company and the energy industry as a whole.