ADB support helps save a sinking switchyard, and keeps energy flowing to Tajikistan's emerging businesses.

Dushanbe, Tajikistan - In ADB technical reports the geological term subsidence is used to describe what's happening to the switchyards at the Nurek Hydroelectric Station outside Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe. To put it more simply, the two massive switchyards that transmit over 70% of the country's electricity are sinking.

Sitting high above one of Central Asia's largest hydropower stations, the switchyards have long played a key role in regulating the frequency of power transmitted from Nurek not only throughout Tajikistan but also nearby Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Saving the Sinking Switchyards

Constructed in the early 1970s, the Nurek switchyards are in urgent need of rehabilitation. Equipment is obsolete with spare parts no longer available. As a result, the physical infrastructure is deteriorating, which in turn leads to reduced reliability and security.

But more importantly, the switchyards need to be moved because they sit atop porous, salty ground that is slowly but surely giving way.

"There is a complicated geological process going on beneath us," said Bahtovarsho Nazrishoev, an energy specialist with Tajikistan's government. "During the rainy season, the salt is melting and when this happens, it creates a vacuum."

He places his hands 6 inches apart. "The land is sinking by this much, each and every year."

Nazrishoev says that geological studies in Russia and Tajikistan have concluded that the subsidence process taking place at Nurek is both irreversible and dangerous. The ground could collapse at any time.

Sitting at the head of a large conference table overlooking the Nurek dam, Sharifhon Samiev, former director of the Nurek hydropower plant, underscores the need to act quickly. He recalls a recent disaster at a similar plant in Russia, where crumbling infrastructure contributed to the death of 75 workers.

"We are just praying that something similar doesn't happen here," Samiev said.

Beyond Emergency Rehabilitation

ADB began working with the Tajikistan government on a solution to the sinking switchyards in 2000 and has since provided a grant of $54 million for the Nurek 500kv Switchyard Reconstruction Project. Under the plan, the aging facility will be replaced using new compact Gas Insulated Switchgear, which will use about 10% of the area of the old switchyard. Most crucially, this will allow the new switchyard to be relocated to the smaller stable area of the plant.

Jim Liston, principal energy specialist in ADB's Central and West Asia Department, said that the new switchyards will help ensure a sustainable and reliable electricity supply that will in turn support Tajikistan's economic development.

"The new switchyards will mitigate the risk of natural disasters disabling the switchyard, and will stabilize the flow of electricity coming from this strategically important power plant," Liston said.