EU-backed energy projects will harm people and the environment in the Western Balkans



Posted on 30 October 2013  | 

Brussels - NGOs from across the region are expressing very serious concerns about the list of 35 priority energy projects [1] approved by the European Commission-backed Energy Community [2] meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, last Thursday. The decision to support projects that are in conflict with EU environment goals and climate goals has seriously dented the EU's credibility as a positive force for the protection of the environment and people's health in the Western Balkans, say the NGOs.

Several of the selected projects are environmentally and socially damaging coal and hydropower plants and NGOs point out that the EU has condoned regional Ministers choosing projects that conflict with EU goals such as biodiversity protection and decarbonisation.

“We are deeply concerned about several hydropower projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia that have received the backing of the Energy Community. These projects will have significant environmental and social impacts and do not meet basic EU standards. WWF will therefore appeal to the competent European institutions to review the list and eliminate the projects that fail to comply with EU legal requirements,” said Angela Klauschen from WWF Mediterranean.

“It is highly disappointing that an EU-backed body has prioritised projects that directly conflict with EU goals, including three lignite power plants – Kolubara B and Nikola Tesla B3 in Serbia and Kosova e Re in Kosovo [3] – which clash with the EU's long-term climate goals and harm local people's health”, added Pippa Gallop from CEE Bankwatch Network.

The selected “Projects of Energy Community Interest” will be fast-tracked and prioritised for financing over the coming years, in particular by the EBRD and EIB. Yet several of the projects are aimed at exporting electricity rather than meeting local needs, while others will perpetuate the region's addiction to lignite power.

“EU Commissioner Oettinger backs projects which divert the clean energy out of Balkans to feed EU markets while leaving our citizens breathing more dirty coal. We sincerely hope that this is not the birth of a new EU energy strategy, which takes advantage of local resources of candidate countries for fulfilling its own renewable energy goals”, said Garret Tankosić Kelly from SEE Change Net.

NGOs call on the EU and specifically Commissioner Oettinger to ensure that environment and health issues are taken seriously in decisions about energy infrastructure development in the region. “The Energy Community has stated that projects not meeting EU standards will be deleted from the priority list and we are holding Commissioner Oettinger and President Barroso accountable for ensuring that this pledge is followed up”, conclude the NGOs.

Among the most controversial projects selected are:

Dabar and Dubrovnik II hydropower plants, BiH and Croatia
The construction of new hydropower plants in Croatia and BiH (HPP Dabar and HPP Dubrovnik II) is part of the very complex Upper Horizons cross-border project that collects water from the catchment basins of the Neretva and Trebišnjica rivers and diverts them to the coast, bypassing the areas that usually get this water via underground connections. If realized in current form, these projects will increase the salinization of the Neretva delta and threaten agricultural production in the region, and cause the drying up of the Hutovo Blato Nature Park, a Ramsar wetland and one of the largest habitats of migratory birds in the Balkans.

Kolubara B lignite power plant, Serbia
A new 750 MW coal plant is planned to be built at Kolubara, in western Serbia, in order to exploit the resources in the Kolubara coal basin. One million tonnes of additional CO2 would be emitted annually, while total annual emissions of such a plant would exceed 8 million tonnes, a quantity that is roughly equal to 25% of the total CO2 emissions from the current power generation in Serbia.

Dajc-Velipoje wind power plant, Albania
The project has repeatedly been refused permission by the Albanian Environment Ministry as it is planned to be located in a Ramsar site near Skadar Lake. The wind farm it is not designed to raise the renewables uptake and meeting local energy demand but rather for export of energy to Italy, and should not gain points under facilitation of renewables, because it does not contribute to developing renewables in Albania's or the Energy Community's electricity system.

Hydropower system on Drina river, BiH/Serbia/Montenegro
The Upper and middle Drina hydropower plants will seriously endanger the hydrology of the beautiful Drina river, including some of the most valuable biodiversity hot-spots like Tara river and its gorge. At the same time, these projects will have irreversible destructive impacts on the river itself and all local communities living next to it. Electricity produced in these plants will not benefit local and national economies and will be a serious burden on the national budgets of Serbia and BiH, especially since the electricity produced in the middle Drina hydropower plants is meant to be exported to Italy.

Pljevlja – Lastva transmission line, Montenegro - Italy
This transmission line is to be connected to the underwater energy interconnection between Italy and Montenegro, which wil significantly affect the environment, and some parts of the country are going to be changed forever. With the almost certain bankruptcy of aluminium factory KAP as the biggest consumer of electricity in the country, Montenegro already has sufficient electricity production for domestic use, so all new projects will be exclusively oriented towards export, which opens up questions about how will the people of Montenegro benefit from these expensive projects.

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Notes for editors

[1] For the complete list of Projects of Community Interest, see: http://www.energy-community.org/pls/portal/docs/2386187.PDF
[2] The Energy Community is an international organisation dealing with energy policy established in 2006. You can find more on: http://www.energy-community.org
[3] According to the UN, Kosovo is “under the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1244.”
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