The unsuccessful tender for the construction of a series of hydropower plants on Morača River confirmed the arguments of civil society, university professors, and independent experts that the proposed project is economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable.
|The Moraca River © Michel Gunther WWF-Canon|
Under the Constitution, Montenegro is an ecological state, but the efforts of the Government in fulfilling its obligations related to sustainable development will have to be substantially higher than they were in recent years, especially in the case of Morača River.
With their plan to build a series of four hydropower plants on one of the Europe’s most important “natural pearls”, the Montenegrin government is seriously endangering its status and commitment to an ecological state. The determination of the government to initiate this project, ignoring the possible socio-economic and environmental consequences (and alternatives), has led to a fierce discussion with the scientific public and civil society, who together with WWF have repeatedly warned that the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Morača could have serious socio-economic consequences on the lives of the local population, as well as the unique biological diversity and nature of the Morača basin and Skadar Lake.
The government continued with the tender even after a survey conducted by the NGO Green Home showed that the majority of citizens, whatever their political orientation, education, or age, do not support the intent of the government and believe that the hydropower plants on the Morača are bad for the national economy and for the environment.
Building a series of hydroelectric power plants would not only seriously jeopardize the entire hydrological system of the Morača basin, it also could also have a significant impact on Skadar Lake, one of the most important habitats in Europe and a wetland with RAMSAR status. Construction of power plants on the Morača could also mean sinking certain parts of the rivers Mrtvica and Mala Rijeka, that are EMERALD sites of great ecological importance and huge touristic potential, protected by the Bern Convention. This means that the plan to build dams on Morača could also seriously jeopardize the process of establishing a Natura 2000 network of protected areas that Montenegro must nominate before becoming a full member of the European Union. The project proposal also featured plans in which an additional amount of water would be diverted from the Tara River, a UNESCO Natural Heritage site, known also by the deepest and most picturesque canyon in Europe, called "Montenegrin Colorado."
Negative impacts of the proposed project were also recognized by one of the leading companies in the hydropower sector - Norwegian Statkraft, which withdrew from the project due to its environmental and economic unsustainability. “Before investing we want to make sure that the proposed design of the dam, in addition to being economically viable, is at the same time environmentally friendly and supports social and economic development. The investment in Montenegro is uncertain - unless new opportunities for minimizing social and environmental impact and optimization of consumption and production are presented,” said Breda Erichsen, Director of Statkraft Albania. Also other global companies, such as Chinese Synohydro and Austrian Strabag, which were initially shortlisted, gave up on the project and didn’t apply for the tender.
The government of Montenegro should take the example of Morača as a warning that projects which carry a high impact and high costs must be well studied in order to avoid an unnecessary waste of time, energy and money. Following the failure of the tender, Montenegrin civil society and international organizations are even more convinced that the project on Morača should be completely stopped.
Bojan Stojanovic, WWF