Albanian takes big step away from harmful small hydropower

Posted on August, 02 2019

In a major boost for Albania's remaining free flowing rivers, the country's Prime Minister announced that the government would never again allow small hydropower projects that negatively affect people and important natural sites.
Speaking at a news conference, Rama stated that small hydropower plants below 2 MW will not be built in Albania, even though permits have been issued for the construction of more than one hundred plants of various sizes.
According to Rama, all hydropower plants below 2 MW are "useless and harmful". He went on to say: “There will no longer be permits in Albania for any hydropower plants below 2 MW and we will never again allow projects affecting people and areas of natural and tourism importance for the sake of power generation.”
"TOKA and the local people of Valbona Valley welcome the statement of prime-minister Rama, chiefly as an indication that government is beginning to understand, acknowledge and respond to the thousands of voices of Albanian citizens which have been raised for years in defence of their rivers and homes, as well as indicating a shift towards beginning to recognize the need to adopt international standards of sustainability, and sound and cautious ecological practices,” said Catherine Bohne from TOKA (The Organisation to Conserve the Albanian Alps) in response to the prime-minister’s words.
The prime minister's statement sets an importatn precedent since the government had never spoken in any way against hydropower before, nor had it  even entertained the possibility that small hydropower plants pose a serious danger to people, the environment, and businesses.

The government asked for a revision of current concession contracts and found that 27 contracts should be cancelled because “the construction has not yet started, or it started without permission, or has been abandoned for a long time”.
While the cancellation of 27 contracts is not based on the fact that small hydropower plants have significant ecological, social and economic impacts, it is a welcome decision by the government, heralding the possibility of removing subsidies and stopping all small hydropower plant development in Albania.
For numerous local initiatives from the Valbona to the Vjosa rivers and international organizations supporting them, such as WWF and RiverWatch, this public recognition by the government is an important step towards ensuring a sustainable future for Albania's free-flowing rivers.
“We have been actively involved with hydropower issues in Albania for years and in partnership with TOKA, we have been fighting the proposed construction of 14 hydropower plants in the Valbona Valley National Park," said Zoran Mateljak, Freshwater programme manager at WWF Adria. "The Valbona case demonstrates the real human cost of hydropower, since people were attacked, threatened and sued by both investors and the state. Local communities were actively silenced and the state exerted its power to discourage them from voicing their opinions."
Until now, the actions of the Albanian government went directly against the Aarhus Convention that grants citizens access to information, public participation and access to justice in governmental decision-making processes on matters concerning the environment. To make things more absurd, Albania was one of the first countries to sign the agreement, yet, it has failed miserably in its implementation.
“Even though this doesn’t put an end to hundreds of other planned or under-construction hydropower plants across Albania, it is a confirmation of changes within the government and a positive response to pleas of individuals fighting for justice and the future of their rivers and communities," added Mateljak.

"It is also an encouragement to initiatives in other Balkan countries where people are fighting against more than 2,500 planned small hydropower plants. In the end, this is a very public confirmation that hydropower is not a green source of energy,” concluded Mateljak.
Valbona river in Albania
© Saimir Kalbaj
Shebenik Jabilanice National Park in Albania
© Ornela Poci
Osum River in the Tomorri Mountain National Park in Albania
© Massimiliano Sticca