Breaking his promise to not allow any new hydropower plants (HPPs) on the Vjosa river, prime minister Edi Rama has approved a Turkish company’s request for a concession, angering environmentalists, portal Balkan Insight reported. Albanian activists voiced dismay over the government’s decision to give initial approval, paving the way for a concessionary agreement to build the Pocem HPP. The company in question is Çinar-San Hafriyat Nakliyat Inşaat Turizm Sanayi Ve Ticaret Limited Şirketi.
Albanian law allows companies to make proposals to build HPPs after which the government opens a tender in which the company that made the first proposal has an advantage assigned by the government. Although in theory other companies can still bid for the concession, the first proposal almost always wins. The Vjosa, in southern Albania, is considered the last wild river in Europe and a group of Albanian and foreign environmental protection organizations are campaigning to convince the government to annul plans to build a chain of HPPs there.
„The Pocem HPP is one of eight plants projected on the Vjosa by previous governments and we have always sought annulment of these plans,“ Besjana Guri, an activist from organization Eco Albania, told BIRN. „We see now the government has decided to give another concession exactly when the prime minister declared that he was working to create the Vjosa national park,“ she added.
Rama promised to stop hydropower development in the zone on June 13, when he was visiting the area in the election campaign. „We will transform the Vjosa in a national park to stop the barbarity of HPPs and to develop tourism, economy, agriculture, so to empower the domestic economy and increase the number of visitors to this big park,“ he had said. „Vjosa is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, it is a great European treasure. In collaboration with international organizations we will implement the project of Vjosa as a national park,“ Rama added.
About 270 kilometres long, the Vjosa is considered as one of the last wild rivers of Europe. It runs uninterrupted from its source in Greece to the Adriatic Sea. Albania’s communist government developed the earliest plans back in 1970 to build a chain of eight HPPs with artificial reservoirs, hoping to produce some 2.2 TWh of electricity and cover about a third of the country’s electricity needs. The post-communist government in 1997 signed a concession to build Kalivaçi, an 80 MW HPP and one of the eight projected hydropower plants. Kalivaçi’s construction has dragged on, however, and the owner of the concession, Francesco Becchetti, is currently under investigation for money laundering.
Over the past years, eight concessionary agreements were signed by the previous government to build small and medium plants on the Vjosa’s tributaries, raising further serious concerns. An investigation by BIRN revealed that one of the plants, the Lengarica, was approved by authorities in disregard of laws and regulations on nature protection. Earlier this year, a group of Green members of European Parliament drafted an amendment on Albania’s progress toward EU, urging the authorities „to re-think plans to build HPPs along the Vjosa river and its tributaries, since these projects would harm one of Europe’s last extensive, intact and near natural river ecosystems.“ Licenses for the construction and use of 30 power plants throughout the country were then cancelled in April by the government for their „failure to meet obligations,“. Rama’s cabinet earlier cancelled projects for several power plants which were approved in the last meetings of Sali Berisha’s government.
Concessionary agreements on HPPs are usually granted for 30 years to private companies on condition that the national power corporation KESH then buys the power under a negotiated price for the whole period.
„We continue to believe that declaring the Vjosa a national park includes an explicit ban on any dam in the river basin. We will continue to support the community in fighting the construction of new plants on Vjosa,“ Guri vowed.