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The Hydropower Solution in Central Asia: yes but"

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Surfing the wave of the hype for renewable energy such as hydropower and the invitation by the United States to many regional countries to get involved in the efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, Tajikistan is bringing back to the table the Rogun hydropower dam project. Rogun, conceived in Soviet days, was planned to generate 3,600 megawatts, but the collapse of the Soviet Union halted the completion of this project. Now an independent country, Tajikistan, one of the poorest in the world, sees Rogun as a central element for its energy independence and a source of severely needed foreign currencies that could be earned through the export of electricity.

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That effort comes at a time when clean energy is seen as the panacea to reduce the world's dependency on polluting fossil energy, just like using olive oil was once seen as a solution to reduce cardio-vascular diseases. The push for clean energy is laudable but an expensive undertaking. Its implementation remains sketchy in poor countries where the lack of long-term political, economical and social visibility is a deterrent for foreign governments, companies, multilateral institutions and venture capitalists from making long-term costly investments. The "let's all hold hands and save the environment" speech quickly dies when the practicality of such projects are plugged into the picture.

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This is unfortunate as the repeated calls for clean energy from industrialized countries create high expectation from poor countries that hope what they have to offer will be seriously considered. For Tajikistan the situation has been quite desperate. The country is plagued with regular energy shortages, unrealistic expectations and unmet promises. The hydropower potential of Tajikistan, about 300 billion kilowatt-hours, remains mostly untapped with only 5% of its potential being used. Once completed, the dam would be one of the tallest in the world at 335 meters and would be 1,500 meters wide. The reservoir would have a total storage volume of 13.5 million cubic meters over 10.3 km3. It is estimated that it would take seven to twelve years for the VakheshRiver to fill the reservoir. The project would force the resettlement of over 30,000 people.

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