Public participation is an essential part of environmental assessment procedures, which must be implemented by all Contracting Parties. If this obligation is not met the Secretariat will initiate a dispute settlement case to ensure that Energy Community (EnC) law is implemented in practice, said the EnC’s Secretariat in its statement on small hydropower (HPP) development, adding that it is currently assessing a complaint concerning an HPP project in Serbia.
The Secretariat did not reveal what project is being assessed in Serbia, but, according to its website, there is a registered complaint regarding Serbia on the environmental impact of HPPs on Mt. Stara Planina. A few years ago, a citizen initiative to Defend the Rivers of Mt. Stara Planina started to oppose the mass construction of SHPPs in this area. In September, they organized a protest that gathered thousands of people in Pirot.
The Secretariat also announced that it will organize, as soon as possible, a stakeholder meeting bringing together all relevant actors, and issue policy guidelines for national authorities on strategic and environmental impact assessment (EIA) for small HPPs.
In its statement, the Secretariat said that under the EnC Treaty, all Contracting Parties must implement legislation on EIA and strategic environmental assessment. Hydropower projects are also subject to a so-called screening obligation.
Public participation is essential part of EIA
According to the Secretariat, if significant negative effects on the environment are established at this stage, a full EIA on various factors (such as human beings, fauna and flora, soil, water, air, climate, landscape, material assets, cultural heritage and the interaction between those) must be carried out.
The project can only go forward if measures to avoid, reduce and, if possible, offset its major adverse effects are established, the Secretariat said.
Public participation is an essential part of the environmental assessment procedures, while non-compliance with this obligation is a reason to challenge any permit granted.
“The obligation to carry out the procedures lies with the national competent authorities. Upon a justified complaint, the Secretariat will initiate a dispute settlement case in order to ensure that Energy Community law is implemented in practice,” the Secretariat’s statement reads.
Protests in BiH and Montenegro
Apart from Serbia, protests over small HPPs have also taken place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where women from Kruščica have been blocking the construction of a dam and hydropower plant for more than a year now, while in Montenegro residents in Plav blocked the start of construction on small HPP Meteh.
In an open letter to Environmental Protection Minister Goran Trivan and Pirot Mayor Vladan Vasić, Serbian experts have expressed concern regarding the conservation of natural resources and demanded a review of the country’s energy policy.
The Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign has handed a petition backed by 120,000 people to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) calling on international development banks to stop financial support for HPP projects in the Balkans.