Residents of Kute in Albania have started a fundraising campaign to halt the destruction of ‘Europe’s last wild river’ by a dam, and to invest in solar power instead.
The river Vjosa is the location of a large dam project that will threaten the whole area, destroying the homes and farmland of people that have lived there for generations. The village of Kute will be one of those that are most impacted by the planned Pocem hydropower plant. It would result in the flooding of over 2,500 hectares of agricultural land and the mass displacement of local people.
The organizers of the petition, supported by NGOs EuroNatur and Riverwatch, are looking for support to bring a clean and sustainable energy source to the area. Funds raised will be used to purchase solar power panels that can be installed on the properties of residents. They plan to install a Rooftop Photovoltaic System in five public-owned buildings. This would consist of 208 panels at a cost of EUR 80,500.
According to the fundraising page:
“Energy self-sufficiency from sustainable energy sources can secure reduced environmental impact, increased sustainability, and economic benefits, such as reduced energy costs. This delivers social benefits for the local community, both in terms of increasing financial resources for community development, and improving energy independence.”
Since 2012, EuroNatur and Riverwatch have led a campaign called ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ which aims to preserver the most valuable river stretches in the Balkans. A growing number of rivers and large swathes of countryside, including protected parks and areas are under threat from hydropower plant construction.
The area at risk from the Pocem plant is considered a threat not just to the livelihoods of those that live the, but to the wider ecosystem and tourism as well.
“Vjosa has a special and crucial place in the daily lives of the Kutë community. Its terraces provide the village with fertile land for agricultural activities such as crop production and livestock farming. On the other hand, recreational tourism on the Vjosa and its tributaries are ever-increasing, particularly in recent years in which enthusiasts have started to enjoy activities such as rafting, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, etc. Many small-scale businesses and new emerging eco-tourism companies have based their existence on the free-flowing waters of the Vjosa.”
The Albanian governments plan to build the dam have been opposed by citizens, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and dozens of international environmental organizations.
In 2016, three environmental organizations; EcoAlbania, Riverwatch, EuoNatur, and 38 citizens sued the government regarding the plan to construct the damn.
The European Commission has also repeatedly stated its objections to the construction of hydropower plants in the country. In the 2014 Progress Report, the Commission urged the government to review plans to build a plant in Vjosa as they would damage one of the last remaining untouched and natural ecosystems in Europe.
The European Parliament (EP) has urged the Albanian government to ban the construction of hydropower plants in protected areas, especially in national parks. Then in 2016, the EP adopted a resolution on Albania, which talks about the destruction of national parks by hydropower plants.
Despite this, Prime Minister Edi Rama did not back down. In April 2017, two Turkish companies with no experience in energy and with rather modest capacities were announced as the winners of the tender to construct Pocemi.
Since then, there has been little transparency or adherence to proper procedures by the government.