The International Hydropower Association has engaged with various stakeholders to help build capacity for sustainable hydropower in the Western Balkans. With industry-wide sustainability standards and tools available to help guide responsible developments, there would be no excuse for hydropower projects in 2021 not to be aligned with good environmental standards and practices. and social. Suzanne Pritchard Reports
The Drin river in Albania. There is enormous potential for optimizing hydropower assets in the region.
In the Western Balkans region of Europe, demand is increasing for the reliable and renewable energy that hydropower can provide. Yet, according to the International Hydropower Association (IHA), local communities can be divided over the merits of hydropower, with some activists seeking to halt new projects. For national licensing authorities, the challenge is to assess whether proposed hydropower projects are sustainable for the environment and local communities.
To help authorities, investors and developers to implement international good practices in hydropower development, the IHA, the Albanian Power Corporation (KESH) and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) launched a new initiative in the Western Balkans. The three-year project will see IHA Sustainability, the organization’s non-profit subdivision, working with project developers, alongside regulators, investors and civil society organizations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Alain Kilajian, Senior Sustainability Specialist at IHA, said: âOne of the main outcomes of this support program will be to ensure that local stakeholders in the Western Balkans are better equipped with the necessary tools to understand and assess the sustainability performance of hydropower projects in accordance with internationally recognized guidelines.
It is hoped that by reaching key decision makers as well as NGOs, the training program will build institutional capacity and broaden awareness of the good practice requirements expected of all hydropower projects, while providing the opportunity to discuss issues. sustainability issues in the region. .
The aim is to ensure that hydropower projects comply with the Hydropower Sustainability Tools, a set of guidelines and assessment tools developed by governments, industry and social and environmental NGOs. These tools are aligned with the lending criteria used by international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.
World Commission on Dams
âThey say it takes 21 years for a child to grow up. Well, it’s been 21 years since the World Commission on Dams first highlighted the importance of this program, âsaid Eddie Rich, CEO of IHA. âI know some environmental NGOs and community activists in the Balkans have called for a complete ban on hydropower developmentâ¦ but this is not what scientists say is necessary if we are to meet the challenge of climate change and respond to the energy needs. “
Rich was speaking at the Western Balkans Hydropower Sustainability Initiative Kick-Off webinar held on March 10, 2021. This provided a platform for local stakeholders to discuss and share their expertise on how to implement hydropower sustainability standards and tools in the region. Without a significant increase in hydropower to support the clean energy grid, Rich says Albania will not meet its net zero targets. And given the long time required for the development of hydropower, he adds that “we must start building now”.
âWe know this will only be acceptable if we can demonstrate that hydropower is not only renewable but sustainable. The objective of this project is to responsibly manage the environmental and social impacts of development. With hydropower sustainability standards and tools, there is no excuse for hydropower development in 2021 not to be aligned with good environmental standards and practices, âsaid Rich.
Patrik Meier is from the Swiss Embassy in Albania. He explained that Switzerland and Albania have a long-standing partnership in the energy sector dating back to 1992. Switzerland is one of the main bilateral donors and has already contributed to the rehabilitation of the Fierza hydropower plant in 500 MW of KESH on the Drin river waterfall.
Meier explained how Switzerland’s support to Albania in the energy sector has seen a shift towards the sustainability of hydropower, which is more relevant than ever for tackling climate change and economic development. He said that tools for sustainable development are only “useful when they are in the hands of the practitioners of the people,” which is why the relevant authorities, investors and developers must be involved so that they can put into practice. implement best practices with such tools.
âI am pleased that this new initiative contributes to increasing the sustainability of hydropower projects while respecting international standards,â he commented.
In Albania over the next year, IHA will provide capacity building training for KESH staff and help implement good practices and project reviews using hydropower sustainability standards and tools. This step will be followed by an assessment of the 250 MW Skavica hydroelectric project by an independent team.
Skavica was planned in the 1980s but was never implemented. Feasibility studies started in 2017 and five design alternatives give an annual energy production potential ranging from 450 GWh to 800 GWh. The project is described as an important and strategic project for Albania, as well as a good opportunity to include sustainability tools in its design. Its main objectives, along with power generation, are flood mitigation and improved production in the existing Drin River waterfall downstream.
KESH’s environmental and social sector manager Anni Kallfa said the power company was eager to apply the tools. âWhile electricity is at the center of the business, KESH also aims to embrace changes in the business environment, technology, funding opportunities and environmental protection,â she said.
Commenting on this initiative, Benet Beci, Executive Director of KESH, said: âOn behalf of the Albanian Power Corporation, I feel honored to be part of this program, as the largest power producer in the country and the region. Our future challenges concern to increase energy production and ensure electrical independence, while ensuring a positive environmental and social presence in the communities living near hydroelectric plants, as well as the promotion of social development, economical and environmentally sustainable. by adopting the best practices and standards of sustainable hydropower. “
Devoll river waterfall
Europe’s largest renewable energy producer, Norwegian developer Statkraft, first became involved in Albania in 2008. The company claims to be committed to the global challenge of climate change and to sustainable and responsible business practices . He said he would always try to understand the impacts of the project, implement measures if necessary and work with transparency.
During the webinar, Rigela Gegprifti, Country Manager for Albania at Statkraft, highlighted his team’s experience in successfully using hydropower sustainability tools at the Devoll 269 MW hydropower project in the south-east of Albania.
âOne of the ambitions of the Devoll hydropower project was to be able to transfer technology, expertise and know-how to local Albanians. I firmly believe that this technological expertise has been transferred to many young Albanians who are the next generation of ambassadors for the development of sustainable projects, âshe said.
The Devoll River Waterfall includes the 72 MW Banja hydroelectric project and the 197 MW Moglice hydroelectric project. Construction began in 2013 with operations starting in Banja in 2016 and Moglice in 2020. An IHA sustainability assessment was carried out in 2017.
An independent evaluation is a prerequisite for every project, according to Gegprifti. She said it is important that sustainability standards identify good practices, facilitate the transfer of good expertise and create a solid foundation for new projects to be implemented in a sustainable manner.
Statkraft believes that the Devoll project was carried out with “full respect for the environment and the community”. The company claims to have worked with transparency, to be a good neighbor of the community and to offer its support in its various initiatives. For example, the construction of 100 km of roads in the region has improved the connectivity of more than 50,000 inhabitants; social development has been encouraged through vocational training programs; and over 50 new homes were built. In addition, reforestation programs cover over 900 ha and over 1.8 million seedlings have been planted. Gegprifti says Statkraft will continue with such support during the operational phase of the project.
“We believe that renewables are definitely the future and that hydropower will continue to play its key role,” concluded Gegprifti. With Albania’s hydrological resources, she added that âthere is enormous potential for further optimization of hydropower assetsâ.
Alain Kilajian from IHA explained how the Balkans webinar was designed âthrough the lens of the World Commission on Damsâ. One of the strategic priorities of the WCD was profit sharing and Kilajian explained that the Devoll program was a good example of how a community can engage and benefit from a hydropower project. At this point in the history of hydropower, he said that every hydropower project should be designed, built and implemented with such a level of community involvement.
âIt’s always interesting to start a timeline from the WCD report which was a remarkable turning point in the history of the hydropower industry,â Kilajian said. He believes that hydropower sustainability tools are in a way the result of the vast body of research that has been carried out by the commission: 21 years later, some of its strategic priorities are still being implemented.
Rewrite the script
Eddie Rich explained that the IHA is keen to work with countries such as the Western Balkans to integrate hydropower sustainability tools into policies and regulations and ensure relevant stakeholders can implement them.
âWith all of this,â says Rich, âwe hope we can rewrite the scenario on hydropower and make sure it can play its part in tackling climate change; set the bar high for the sustainability of all renewable energies.