Turkmenistan seeks South Asian markets after power plant boost

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, pictured September 2016, says new capacities at the plant would allow the country to boost exports to "neighboring countries"

Gas-rich Turkmenistan on Saturday hailed the expansion of a Soviet-era power plant that it hopes will become a hub for electricity exports to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the upgrade of the facility powered by gas and steam in the republic's southern Mary region, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said new capacities at the plant would allow the country to boost exports to "neighbouring countries".

The $1.2 billion expansion project would allow Turkmenistan to export an additional three billion kilowatt-hours per year to neighbouring countries, Berdymukhamedov said.

An employee in the energy ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to AFP the cost of the expansion, carried out jointly by Turkish firm Calik Holding and General Electric.

Central Asian states are jockeying to supply electricity to potentially promising markets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One project called CASA 1000, backed in part by the United States, would see electricity produced at hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan sent to the two countries.

For Turkmenistan, which sits on the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas, electricity exports as well as trade and transit have assumed added importance as it struggles to find markets for its main export.

Planned gas pipelines to Europe and India have been slow to materialise despite years of negotiations plagued by political and economic doubts, while major buyer Russia ceased importing Turkmen gas in 2016.

Turkmenistan sliced a fifth off its manat currency in 2015 after the global hydrocarbons market dropped but black market estimations of the manat's value relative to the dollar are over six times lower than the official rate.