A hearing session on Hydro energy development in environmental sensitive areas in Albania was organized by OSCE in collaboration with the Parliamentary Committee on Productive Activities, Trade and Environment. Mr Besnik Bare opened the meeting by thanking the Head of Presence, Ambassador Borchardt, for initiating the hearing session and welcomed all the participants from the Parliamentary Committee, members of government and state agencies, international community, civil society experts and activists. Mr Bare highlighted that the aim of the meeting was to provide a platform for discussion in a calm atmosphere with no media and hear independent opinions of all the sides. He added that all participants should argue how to minimize the environmental impact and also find a compromise with business community.
The Head of Presence took the floor to greet all the participants and stressed the importance of environmental decision making in the planning of hydro energy development. He emphasized the progress done in the field of energy development shifting from fuel generators placed all over the country, to the ‘so-called’ clean hydro energy. However, the Head of Presence invited all to take into consideration the various impacts that such development can bring to the local communities. The Head of Presence highlighted that neither the legislative nor the executive can deal with such complex issues alone. They need input from field experts, academics, interest groups and citizens to better shape policies and take decisions to the benefit of the Albanian people and the country. In this context, it was invited to regard the hearing session as serving the purpose to listen some independent studies undertaken by civil society and experts in various places in the country. The Head of Presence offered the Presence’s support to take forward the endeavours of the Parliamentary Committee.
Three key sensitive areas were on the agenda for this meeting: Valbona NP, Shebenik NP and Vjosa River.
Vjosa River Case: Litigation of Poçem HPP
Mr Olsi Nika, from Eco Albania, presented arguments on why Vjosa River should be saved from HPP construction, while being the last remained untouched river in Europe. He stressed that currently there are 40 HPP planned to be constructed in Vjosa River and its tributaries, one of them being Poçem HPP. He highlighted that the process around the planning and approval of Poçem HPP was done in breach of national and international laws, as it was not carried prior consultation with the local people and local municipalities who are directly impacted by the project, and no real environmental assessment was done for the project and its impact. He stated that the local people, local NGOs and scientists, together with other European supporters, such as the EU Parliament are calling the Albanian Government to declare Vjosa River a national park and avoid the development of HPP. Eco Albania together with 38 villagers of the Kute area have opened a lawsuit against the Ministry of Energy and Industry, National Environmental Agency and the Turkish Company KOVLU ENERGJI” sh.p.k, for failing to consult the project with local community, the lack of transparency and bogus consultation sessions.
The environmental, legal, economic and touristic impact of hydro power (HP) development in Valbona Valley
Mr Lauka, NGO TOKA, took the floor to highlight the main concerns regarding the Dragobia Energy project. He highlighted that the Dragobia Energy concession represents legal, environmental, economic and touristic concerns which have not been taken into consideration. He stated that the company has allegedly falsified the signatures of people (who were dead) in the list of consultation procès-verbal. The concession has created conflicts with local community and the tradition of the area in choosing between “the weapons and the plough” has been chasing the first. He highlighted that the hydro energy concessions in Albania are a corruptive affair lacking transparency.
Prof Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana described the biodiversity concerns of the Dragobia Energy project in Valbona. He highlighted that Valbona National park is rich with rare flora and fauna species (habitats, fish, and invertebrates, plants including algae, birds and mammals). Albania is a party member of Bern convention and Emerald Network and has an obligation to preserve the biodiversity that exists in the National Park. The aforementioned project is endangering all these species.
Ms Emirjeta Adhami from WWF Adria continued by highlighting the major gaps and weaknesses of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report prepared by Dragobia Energy Company, which led to the wrong decision making and issuance of the environmental declaration and the other permits. She highlighted that the EIA lacks baseline data, impacts are not described or quantified, and that there is no information on associated infrastructure, no consideration of alternative options, no assessment of cumulative impacts, no information on species’ population and characteristics of habitat. Moreover, the effects on hydrology and water quality are not described or quantified, including impact on elements of “good ecological status of surface water bodies” as per the EU Water Framework Directive, and the effect on the environment of the “significantly reduced river flows” is not assessed.
Ms Jola Gjuzi, (law firm Kalo & Associates) plead for support from public institutions to provide the requested information regarding the project of Dragobia Energy. She stressed the fact many institutions were collaborative, but the law firm still faces difficulties in receiving the rest of information by many other state agencies. From the legal aspect, she highlighted that the project goes against to the law on protected areas, contrary to the environmental legislation and contrary to urban planning legislation. The project has an invalid environmental permit and construction permit and they will soon initiate the litigation with the administrative court.
Ms Eltjana Shkreli, from University of Shkodra, presented the tourism aspects of the project while making a comparative analysis of the income generated by HPP to the local community and the incomes generated from tourism in a year. She took as comparison the 52MW Ashta HPP Plant which generates approx. 7.2 Million EUR annually and only 0.02% or 144,000 EUR were destined to the local community. On the opposite, the tourism based industry in Valbona generates approx.1.5 Million EUR annually from accommodation only, which is all distributed to local community. She concluded by highlighting that tourism brings much more employment and incomes for local communities than energy production and it preserves the area and its pristine environment.
The Valbona team concluded by demanding to the Albanian Government to:
- Immediately stop all ongoing construction pending full investigation into legal and quality concerns related to concession contracts and EIA processes with the aim to revoke concessions granted for HPP construction in Valbona Valley National Park;
- Commission a new environmental impact aassessment (by independent national and international experts according to the international standards and EU directives) with the aim to determine whether planned development is compatible with the purpose of a national park protection category;
- Organize transparent, open and inclusive public consultations to determine whether HPP development in Valbona Valley National Park is supported by the public;
- Proceed with the declaration of the National Park of the Albanian Alps, to be based on agreed management plan and zoning.
Water related conflicts linked with HPP development in Albania
Ms Valbona Mazreku, from Milieucontact Albania, presented a study undertaken by a group of civil society organizations (Milieukontakt Albania, Lex Ferenda and Eco Albania) in the frame of ACHIEVE programme, implemented by REC Albania and financed by EU, focused in mapping water related conflicts linked with hydropower. The study took into consideration 5 areas: conflict cause, geography, mobilisation, impact and result. She highlighted that 18 water related conflicts were identified all over Albania which had resulted in 6 casualties, 34 arrested people, among whom 6 were women and minors. The study showed that lack of consultation and early information together with water rights had been the main issues identified that caused conflicts with local communities. In addition, the study presented for the first time 16 factsheets related to hydropower conflicts and will be soon available online under www.help-cso.net.
Shebenik- Jabllanice National Park case
Mr Agim Blloshmi, from Egnatia Association, made a brief description of the National Park in Shebenik Jabllanica, which enjoys a rich variety of flora and fauna. However, he said, the park is threatened by the issuance of 95 HPP licenses in Librazhd area, with 44 HPPs being inside the national park zone. He highlighted that the issuance of the HPP licenses has created conflicts with local community where only in the small village of Polis there have been organized more than 180 protests from local habitants. Further he raised the question whether the Government wants to have a national park or an energetic park in Shebenik Jabllanca National Park.
 Indeed, the Director of Shebenik National park confirmed that to date only 4 HPPs have been finalized inside the park and 11 are under construction.