The Green Party and activists fighting against the construction of small hydropower plants (SHPPs) have presented a five-point plan for the “unchecked surge of small hydropower plants,” the party said in a news release. The plan’s key point is to protect drinking water under the Constitution and in the meantime introduce a moratorium on the construction of SHPPs.
Water protection under the Constitution, a moratorium on the construction of SHPPs, the establishment of a commission to review all small hydropower facilities built so far, strengthening the local population’s role in decision-making affecting local nature, and improving the energy system without jeopardizing rivers are the five points of the plan presented by the Green Party, according to the news release.
Participants in the conference organized to present the plan concluded that Serbia is encouraging outdated solutions by approving the construction of more than 800 SHPPs on brooks and streams with high-quality drinking water, while the U.S. and the EU are at the same time removing old dams and SHPPs over their low benefits and highly devastating environmental impact, according to the news release.
“At the moment, the Green Party’s plan represents the only official hurdle, the only political obstacle to the senseless attack on Europe’s last wild rivers. Therefore, as a key measure, the Green Party proposes protecting drinking water under the Constitution. Drinking water is becoming an increasingly limited resource on the planet. No one in Serbia has the right to act irresponsibly and jeopardize a common good that needs to be preserved for the future,” said Goran Čabradi, the Green Party leader and an MP.
And since the Serbian citizens have no time to wait for the procedure of constitutional changes to be completed, the Green Party demands a moratorium on the construction of SHPPs, according to the news release.
“As with everything else, Serbia is lagging behind the developed world in this area as well, wholeheartedly accepting discarded and outdated solutions the West gave up at least three decades ago. Due to their extremely damaging effects on nature and low economic benefits over the past 20-25 years, at least 5,000 small power plants, dams, and sluices have been removed from rivers in France, Sweden, Finland, Spain, and the UK. Since the Serbian energy sector’s development needs to proceed, entailing an increased use of ‘green energy’, the Green Party is offering a solution to efficiently replace SHPPs and improve environmental protection,” Čabradi said.
Proposal to plant basket willows in lieu of SHPPs
The Green Party proposes replacing damaging small hydropower plants with trees called osiers or basket willows (Salix viminalis), which would enable wastewater treatment and resolve sewerage issues in all residential areas, improve energy stability, drive local development, and secure huge savings in the state and local budgets, according to the news release.
“The fast-growing basket willows have a high annual growth rate and can be used for the production of pellets, which would enable local heating plants to switch from heating oil and households from coal to a fuel that has no damaging effects on health and the environment. The gain would exceed EUR 180 million, while 900,000 tonnes of coal and 450,000 tonnes of heating oil would be substituted per year,” said Rade Milutinović, an engineer and chairman of the Green Party’s Energy and Water Resources Council.
Aleksandar Drašković, an environmental activist from the spa town of Jošanička Banja, shared his experience of someone living in close proximity to a mini hydropower plant. Apart from the well-known negative impacts of small hydropower plants, noise is an additional product of such facilities, he said.
“Noise of around 85-95 decibels, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is insufferable and is among the reasons why people living close to mini hydropower plants choose to move away,” Drašković said.
“Legislation often violated and sidestepped”
Environmental expert Blagoje Pejić, PhD, discussed Serbia’s regulatory framework, noting that legislation is often violated and sidestepped when it comes to small hydropower plants. He also said that large areas of forest land are devastated when small hydropower plants are built with their turbines, pipes, and power lines. He also said that laying pipes into a streambed represents a serious violation of the Water Law and poses a great risk due to increasingly frequent floodwaters.
Participants in the conference also noted that water protection would help improve Serbia’s position in membership negotiations with the EU.
“The EU Water Framework Directive stipulates that water is not a commercial product but a common good that needs to be protected, defended, and treated as such, and we as a society must act accordingly or disappear,” Čabradi said.
The Green Party earlier submitted a proposal of a draft new environmental impact assessment law to introduce a mandatory impact assessment for small hydropower plants (SHPPs).