WWF Adria (World Wide Fund of Nature), one of the world's largest and most influential nature conservation organizations, has launched an initiative to the Montenegrin Government to suspend activities on the construction of small hydropower plants and to establish a working group to review the concession policy in that area.
This comes after domestic environmental organizations have accused the Montenegrin government of issuing new concessions after the alleged ban on the construction of mini hydroelectric power plants, which is denied by the Government.
Will the Government act on the initiative of WWF Adria? This is the question which Radio Free Europe (RSE) sent by email to the address of the Montenegrin Ministry of Economy, but the answer has not yet been received.
Cabarkapa: To involve as many interested people as possible
"We believe that there is a willingness to involve as many persons as possible in this business and to include members of different structures from the state institutions, local organizations, professors, representatives of NGOs and locals," Milija Cabarkapa, representative of the World Wildlife Fund in Montenegro said to Radio Slobodna Evropa (RSE).
In a letter to the Montenegrin Government on July 25th, he proposed the establishment of a multidisciplinary working group, which would analyze the documentation related to the construction of small hydropower plants and re-examine the concession policy in that area.
From one of the most influential nature protection organizations in the world, they propose to the Government that, while this working group does not complete its work, concessionaires recommend the suspension of all activities on mini-hydropower projects. What are the expectations of Mili Cabarkapa?
"Bearing in mind the seriousness of the situation and the protests that are almost daily organized on the Montenegrin rivers, we are confident and we sincerely hope that the Government will have the opportunity to recognize this problem and respond positively to our request," said interlocutor to RSE.
Citizen to pay for the subsidies
Projects for the construction of small hydropower plants in Montenegro have been attracting the attention of the domestic public for years.
The reason for this is the high state subsidies, which until recently fell directly at the expense of citizens, which are included in the calculation of the electricity bill as the costs of "encouraging the development of renewable energy sources".
On the other hand, due to the negative impacts of mini-plants on the environment, at locations where their construction was planned, there was a protest of the local population.
Therefore, the Government in Podgorica recently decided to take a moratorium on the construction of new small hydropower plants and instructed the Ministry of Economy to review the licenses and approvals issued for the electricity plants from 2009 to date.
Minister of Economy Dragica Sekulic said in late May this year that the state will no longer give new concessions for mini-plants. However, in July, the government approved two concessions to Hidroenergija Andrijevica, majority-owned by the brother of the mayor of that city in the east of Montenegro, who already runs two power plants in the municipality Andrijevica. From the Ministry of Economy, this was explained as a retroactive decision since the demands of the concessionaire from Andrijevica were received three or four years ago. "Invasion" on watercourses In the past few years, according to the ecological movement “Ozon”, a real "invasion" of small power plants projects on Montenegrin watercourses took place. At the expense of those organizations that were critical towards the issuance of numerous concessions for the construction of mini power plants by the Government, accusations were made that in this way they created an unfavorable investment environment. For RSE, this is emphasized by Aleksandar Perovic, director of “Ozon”, who on July 16 invited the government to inform the public about the origin of the property of investors who built or are still building small hydropower plants. This non-governmental organization also called on the state prosecutor's office to investigate whether there were any corruptive criminal activities by the investors. "The government tried to counteract the effects of its obviously bad policy when it opted for the construction of small hydropower plants and concessions, especially so many of them. We then thought that all the maps should be opened and that it should be shown who are the investors, from where they acquired the property, they invest in mini-hydro power plants," Perovic says.
"In the end," Perovic comments, "where do the references come to them to deal with energy projects?"
"I repeat, this is an energy market that is profitable and guarantees revenue and success. Especially in the context of small hydropower plants that are privileged and for which, first of all from the citizens, and now from the state budget, they receive subsidies for their business," Perovic explains.
In the meantime, the rebellion of citizens living near the rivers on which the construction of small hydropower plants has been planned has become stronger, and their demands that the state suspends the construction of these plants are becoming louder.
Defense of Bukovica
The most drastic example of resisting the construction of a mini power plant was the one near the River Bukovica near Savnik, in central Montenegro, where residents were guarding day after day to prevent Bukovica watercourse from being re-routed to the pipeline for the needs of two small power plants.
Their protests were fruitful after the Minister of Economy Dragica Sekulic visited them one month ago, who managed to convince the defenders of Bukovica to stop the protest, and asked the investors to guarantee that there will be no work at the site until the decision is made.
"You do not have to protect Bukovica anymore from no one, and when we make a decision, we will come to announce it to you," Sekulic told local residents at a joint meeting.
While in Montenegro a conflict of environmental and economic interest in the construction of mini-hydropower plants is intensifying, representatives of Green Home and several other NGOs delivered 6,300 citizens' signatures to the state parliament. The signatories are demanding the permanent stopping of the construction of small hydropower plants.
They are 13 currently operating in Montenegro and al are privately owned. As we have been told from Green Home, there are still between 5 and 10 such plants in the construction, and at different stages of realization there are another 80 projects for the construction of small hydropower plants.
Text by Radio Slobodna Evropa, on July 26th, 2019, read more at Vijesti