Worldwide, one out of every five people lacks access to modern electricity. Affordability, quality of service, and social and environmental impacts pose great challenges in providing people with the power they need for lighting, cooking, and other activities. Good governance involving open and inclusive practices is essential to overcoming these pressing obstacles.

This is part two of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in effective electricity governance. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.” Read more posts in this series.

Three years after a political uprising overthrew the president of Kyrgyzstan, challenges still exist in the country’s energy sector. Before the revolution, the central Asian country suffered rolling blackouts, poor service, and skyrocketing prices, ultimately leading to nationwide revolts and the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Again this past winter, half of the people in the nation’s capital experienced a major blackout, leaving them without access to electricity during the coldest months of the year. The city still faces 900 outages per week.

High energy demand, outdated transmission equipment, and power theft all put increasing stress on energy supplies, but issues of corruption and basic transparency exacerbate the crisis. Civil society groups are turning their attention to these issues to help improve Kyrgyzstan’s energy situation.

These groups are working with a government initiative to open up the decision-making processes in a sector that has traditionally hidden behind closed doors. Their efforts to increase transparency are essential to creating meaningful reform in the Kyrgyz energy sector.

A Civil Society Organization-Government Partnership to Improve Transparency

In 2009, UNISON and USTIN, the core Kyrgyz partners of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI), conducted the country’s first comprehensive Electricity Governance Assessment. The groups found that there were progressive laws governing the electricity sector on paper, but they were not being applied in practice.

Despite some provisions to promote transparency, decision-making processes were still opaque and unaccountable to the public. For example, public hearings had become platforms to announce decisions once they were made, rather than to collect input for the pending decision. Kyrgyz people were left in the dark about many issues in the sector, including how electricity prices are set and how decisions on long-term national energy plans are made.

Since the 2010 revolution, the government has attempted to improve this situation by launching the Fuel and Energy Security Transparency Initiative (FESTI), which seeks to increase transparency, accountability, and opportunities for civic engagement in the energy sector. Having established themselves as credible stakeholders in electricity decision-making following the EGI Assessment, Nurzat Abdyrasulova, executive director of UNISON, was appointed co-chair of FESTI. Abdyrasulova is helping to address some of the issues uncovered in the Assessment, including transparency concerns in electricity pricing and other issues affecting energy security and service delivery. Since the implementation of FESTI, there have been some notable improvements in the sector, such as massive savings in transmission line costs and significant drops in reported distribution losses.

Transparency has proven to be essential in Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector. For example, it has allowed civil society groups to better scrutinize Ministry of Energy decisions. The ministry’s commitments to transparency have been important in ensuring that energy targets put forward in the National Mid-Term Energy Development Plan 2012-2017 stay on track. Kyrgyzstan plans to minimize costs to consumers by holding energy companies accountable for improving their performance and regularly reporting progress on targets related to electricity production and loss, revenues, and debt. This is important, since electricity losses and utility debt contribute to the sector’s financial woes, which then affects its ability to operate effectively and impacts how much consumers pay.

These improvements could not have happened without FESTI’s efforts at enhancing transparency. Yet there is still much work to be done, as the recent power shortages show. FESTI will need to continue to promote transparency through initiatives such as:

  • Adoption of transparency indicators to uncover issues related to energy production, inconsistent revenue collection, and outstanding debt from utilities. UNISON and other CSOs are helping to draft these indicators as members of the FESTI advisory board;

  • Mandated quarterly performance reports from utilities to be submitted to the Ministry of Energy; and

  • Creation of utility customer service centers to monitor and address customer concerns and to ensure better quality of service.

Electricity Sector Transparency Across the World

Just as UNISON and USTIN have been working to improve transparency in Kyrgyzstan’s electricity sector, EGI partners in other countries have been doing the same to ensure better performance of the electricity sector:

  • After completing an EGI assessment, EGI civil society partners in Indonesia determined that public disclosure on upcoming and pending legislation was insufficient, making it hard for the public to discuss concerns about proposed changes or new legislations with their representatives. Discussions between EGI partners and the government led to more transparency by the Department of Parliamentary Relation. This was achieved through efforts such as online posts and agenda updates of pending bills, as well as public input message boards on the Department’s website.

  • EGI partners in South Africa led a campaign to open up the process for creating the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)(2010-30), South Africa’s long-term electricity plan. EGI partners organized a series of workshops to inform and receive input on the IRP process. This open process resulted in the country’s first public consultations on electricity planning and public disclosure, resulting in a less carbon-intensive electricity plan.

  • LEARN MORE: For more information about how EGI has been involved in transparency, please refer to our outcomes report, Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.