The Aarhus Resource Centre Sarajevo has submitted two complaints to the District Court in Banja Luka against the environmental permits for the Buk Bijela and Foča hydropower plants (HPPs) on the river Drina in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) near the border with Montenegro, CEE Bankwatch Network, one of the largest networks of environmental civil society organizations in Central and Eastern Europe, said in a press release.
The river Drina constitutes the most significant habitat for the endangered Danube Salmon (Hucho hucho), while the area has also developed small-scale tourism facilities based on rafting and angling which would be heavily impacted by any nearby dams, Bankwatch said.
“The Republika Srpska Ministry for Spatial Planning, Construction and Ecology extended both the environmental permits even though the investor failed to request their renewal within the legally defined deadline. The Ministry should have annulled the previous permits considering that construction had not begun within four years of their issuance. Instead, it issued an illegal decision to prolong the existing environmental permits. In contravention of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s obligations under the Aarhus and Espoo Conventions, the environmental impact assessments were not repeated, nor were the public consultations, either in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Montenegro,” said Nina Kreševljaković of the Aarhus Resource Centre in Sarajevo.
The original public consultations, held in 2012, had been poorly advertised and the comments provided by NGOs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro were not taken into account, according to the press release.
“The latest version of the project is claimed in the environmental impact assessment not to impact on the river Tara, but without any evidence provided. Considering that the Tara is the main tributary of the Drina and that the reservoir would reach the Montenegrin border, it is inevitable that some impacts would occur and need to be assessed”, pointed out Nataša Kovačević from Green Home in Montenegro.
HPP Buk Bijela is being pushed by state-owned Elektroprivreda Republike Srpske (ERS), the power utility of Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska, and a memorandum on construction of the project was signed with China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Corporation (AVIC-ENG) in July 2017. It is expected to be financed by Chinese state banks, Bankwatch recalled.
The 44 MW Foča plant, a few kilometers downstream, is also promoted by ERS. Both plants are part of the so-called Upper Drina cascade, along with the planned Sutjeska and Paunci plants, the press release reads.
“Chinese banks are already attracting negative publicity for their support for coal power plants in the region,” added Pippa Gallop from CEE Bankwatch Network. “Financing harmful hydropower plants like Buk Bijela and Foča is only going to create more disharmony between China’s business activities and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s EU aspirations. The EU urgently needs to ensure that the countries in the region adhere with EU nature protection legislation, no matter who is financing infrastructure projects, and Chinese banks need to enhance their due diligence around such projects.”
ERS subsidiary sets up concession unit for HPP Buk Bijela project
At a recently held shareholder meeting, ERS’ subsidiary Hidroelektrane Na Drini set up a concession company for the Buk Bijela hydropower plant.
Earlier, Republika Srpska’s energy minister, Petar Đokić, said that he expects ERS to soon launch a public invitation for a turnkey project to build the hydropower plant. He has also said that the project to build the 93.52 MW HPP Buk Bijela would require an investment of about EUR 200 million.
Đokić has also said that the governments of Republika Srpska and Serbia will discuss the joint construction of the Paunci and Foča hydropower plants at their next session, which, according to local media, should be held in late August in Trebinje.
Đokić said that he hopes by the time the session is held, a negotiating procedure will be carried out and a concession for the construction of the Paunci and Foča hydropower plants (HPP) awarded to the entity’s power utility, ERS. This will be done so that ERS can have an adequate relationship with Serbia’s power utility Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS) on the project, according to Đokić.