Last week, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy (MIE) announced that it had suspended all contracts for hydropower plants (HPP) that have not started to operate. The claimed reason was “to balance development and [use of] natural resources”. The decision came one year after the government approved the National Strategy of Energy 2018-2030 which prioritized the construction of small hydropower plants. Now, one year later, the government claims “it’s time to pause and think on future steps”.
MIE announced that it will “physically scan” the documentation for all HPP contracts because “there is a need for a perfect balance between economic development and protection of natural resources”. It remains unclear how long this moratorium will last, what will happen after the “scanning”, and how will contracts be dealt with.
Government’s green worries put aside, the decision appears to aim at reshuffling the hydropower sector given that 60 per cent of concession permits allocated have not started implementation yet. According to the ministry, of the 182 concession contracts for building 440 HPPs only 73 contracts for 96 plants have been implemented.
Past experiences make it questionable whether the government is really trying to attain a greener policy approach toward the environment. When several permits in tourist attraction areas were cancelled previously, the government didn’t stop to “harness” the hydropower; instead it reopened calls for new concession contracts. Similarly, the latest moratorium might just be targeting a reshuffling of contracts, resulting in different companies obtain government permits to exploit natural resources for new HPPs.
In 2014, former minister of MIE Damian Gjiknuri made a similar announcement about re-assessing all concession contracts. After few months, in July 2014, the ministry published the result: 14 contracts for 30 HPPs were revoked. The reasons included “delays” by companies in registering with authorities and in submitting the projects, as well as “frequent amendments of concessionary contracts” and “transfer of shares” without approval by authorities.
Back then the ministry said that the re-assessment would include all contracts, however it was only after two years, in October 2016, when another contracts was revoked: the building of six HPPs in Shala River in Theth. This time, the company had “not filled in the necessary documents”.
However, one year later the government reopened the call for proposals for three HPPs in the same area of the same Shala River.
In 2018, following public pressure against the destruction of the Osum River Canions, the government revoked the Bigas-Veleshnje hydropower plant contract. The stated reason was that the company had “manipulated the coordinates in the environmental permit”. However, it was later revealed that since at least one year the government knew about the manipulation of coordinates, and it had actually approved in 2016 an increase from 0.5MW to 1.2MW for the same HPP.
In fact, the government has never revoked any contract whatsoever due to projects’ negative impact on the environment or tourism.
The negative impact of hydropower plants in protected areas
The Law on Protected Areas bans the construction of HPPs in protected areas including national parks.
“[…] territories are defined as protected areas in order to meet the general objectives of prohibiting the construction of urban areas, like highways, railways, high voltage lines, large hydropower plants, and oil and gas systems with long extension. ”
“[the objective in defining protected areas is] prohibiting changes in the natural state of water sources, lakes […]”
The same law also specifically prohibits HPPs in national parks.
Despite clear legal barriers, private companies were able to get permits for building HPPs in protected areas.
In 12 protected areas throughout the country 60 HPPs licensed, of which 33 are completed and operational. Five plant were built during the communist regime.
Whilst the ministry stated that the re-assessment of contracts aimed at “a perfect balance between economic development and protection of natural resources”, it failed to mention HPPs in protected areas. If that is the aim, then it is only logical that the re-assessment of contracts would start from plants in protected areas which have been disputed and denounced for a long time.
The destruction and chaos with concessions
Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Balluku said that there are 182 concession contracts for 440 HPPs, of which 73 contracts have been implemented and 96 plants were built.
However, the National Agency of Natural Resources (AKBN) shows a different picture: 183 contracts for 524 HPPs, of which 117 plants were already built and currently operating, 43 are under construction, and the remaining 364 are yet to be constructed.
Furthermore, the government decision on approving the National Action Plan on Renewable Energy Resources adds more to government’s chaos with elementary statistics. According to this decision, the building of 540 HPPs was licensed, of which 147 are currently operating, 109 are under construction, and 284 are yet to be built.
Government’s inconsistency regarding the number of contracts and HPPs clearly shows the chaos in permits issued and monitoring of implementation. Moreover, it also shows the destructive policy of exploiting nearly every single river, big or small, for building HPPs, which has led to devastating environment abuses.
The sheer number of hydropower plants licensed should make the government revoke permits for those planned to be built in protected areas, and which anyhow have a minimal contribution in country’s energy production.