Brief description of the developments of events related to Namakhvani HPP
The project of construction of Namakhvani HPP cascade involves the exploitation of the Rioni River on the section between 357 and 205 m above sea level. The project area of the cascade is located in western Georgia, particularly on the territories of Tskaltubo and Tsageri municipalities. The project area includes the part of the Rioni River valley that is located between the village of Alpana in Tsageri Municipality and the village of Joneti in Tskaltubo Municipality.
Where did it all start? After reviewing the project documentation for large and small hydropower plants since the 1930s, these documents have been processed and replaced with an updated version, one of which is the Namokhvan project.
As a result of the construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade in these areas, 19 cultural heritage sites, including 14 churches, are being affected by the cascade in the Rioni River Valley. The villages Molecura, Kveda Onchei, and Mekvena-Vanichala, moreover, 13 archeological objects of the Eneolithic period of V-IV millennium BC, will be completely drowned.
The section of the highway leading to the Racha region will be also covered in water. Several village cemeteries are located within the water-covered areas of the reservoirs. Before starting the process of filling the reservoirs with water, the corpses should be moved, and the cemetery facilities should be dismantled according to the environmental impact assessment report.
Due to the Tvishi HPP, about 100 hectares of land will be flooded in Tsageri Municipality, while the Namakhvani-Joneti HPP will cover agricultural lands, State Forest Fund lands, and 3 settlements (villages Molekura, Lower Ontcheishi, Mekvena-Vanichala). The project will have an indirect impact on 4 additional villages (Zemo Onchei, Vani, Derchi, and Mekvena), implying physical and economic resettlement.
For more than 5 months, there are locals and groups of activists from all over the country in the village of Namokhvani, at the downhill of Khvamli Mountain. The activists from Samegrelo and Zemo Svaneti, Guria, Adjara, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, Imereti, Samtskhe-Javakheti, Shida Kartli Mtianeti, Kvemo Kartli, Kakheti are on duty every day in unbearable conditions in tents to stop construction work and get answers to legitimate questions.
Meanwhile, the police in Gumati and Mekvena have set up checkpoints since April 3, after Enka Riniubels resumed construction of the Namakhvani HPP. “Rioni guards” and not only them but also the locals living there have limited rights of freedom of the movement.
We, students express our support and solidarity with the people of Rioni Valley. This support is based on national interests and European values. We will explain all these below.
Georgia in the context of EU treaties and directives
European Parliament Resolution of 14 November 2018
Since the European Parliament ratified the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, Georgia and the EU have moved into a deeper phase of relations, focusing on particularly important issues, including energy and the environment. In a resolution, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to assist and thoroughly monitor the Georgian authorities in the implementation of investment programs aimed at the construction, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of hydropower plants; For its part, the European Parliament called on the Georgian authorities to adhere to EU standards and norms, especially when it comes to environmental impact assessment of large hydropower plants. Environmental and energy issues were discussed in the report approved by the European Parliament on November 14, 2018, on the state of implementation of the Association Agreement with Georgia. The document highlighted the positively assessed facts and, at the same time, made recommendations to the Government of Georgia from the European Parliament. The European Parliament called on the Georgian authorities:
Develop an effective energy strategy, promote renewable energy utilization and energy efficiency improvement measures;
Increase the level/degree of public participation in environmental decision-making;
Improve the quality of fulfillment of Georgia’s commitments under multilateral environmental agreements.
Georgia-EU Association Agreement
Strengthening Georgia’s energy security – which means bringing Georgian legislation closer to Europe and developing cooperation in areas such as electricity, natural gas and oil exploration, extraction and transit, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. The agreement also provides for the possibility of Georgia joining the European Energy Union.
Recommendations of the EU Water Framework Directives
Should be distinguished so-called. Untouchable zones where the construction of new HPPs is prohibited;
Existing hydropower plants should be upgraded and modernized to avoid the construction of new hydropower plants as much as possible and the impact caused by them on the natural and social environment;
Clear environmental standards should be set for newly built and upgraded hydropower plants and operating conditions should be improved. For example, hydropower plants must have efficient fisheries and adhere to the standard of annual environmental (environmental) cost utilization;
Project cost-benefit analysis must be carried out to determine whether the damage to the natural and social environment outweighs the economic / energy benefits of the hydropower plants;
The size of the project is not a criterion for determining the damage caused by it. A project of any size can cause such damage that the quality of the water body will deteriorate, and the requirements of the Water Framework Directive will be violated.
What is the reality facing the country in parallel with the commitments made by Georgia and the recommendations received?
It is difficult to talk about Georgia’s European course when the state policy is completely inconsistent with the EU directives, the reports on the implementation of the Association Agreement, the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directives, and various environmental and energy regulations. It is not appropriate, because the implementation of a specific project of Namakhvani HPP started with the violation of each of the above points – the opaque start of the process, and the decision to build was made before the start of all environmental research. Based on non-existent strategic environmental assessments and studies. After all this, it is clear that the construction of the Namakhvani project does not envisage, but violates all the obligations in the energy or environmental sectors, which Georgia has on its way to rapprochement with the European Union
In parallel with the above directives
Several studies have confirmed that the construction of large hydro dams does not comply with the principles of sustainable development, as they have a significant negative impact on the environment, dramatically changing the social and demographic situation. The Namokhvani HPP project meets the parameters of a giant hydropower plant, and the implementation of this project may have an irreparable impact on the microclimate of the Rioni Valley and the viability of the surrounding regions.
According to a report published by the World Dam Commission in 2000, the negative impacts of large dams and hydropower plants on the natural and social environment (forced relocation, loss of traditions, destruction of natural and cultural heritage, change of landscape, and local climate) are so strong that they are no longer considered In part.
Besides, the European Parliament in early 2011 strongly criticized the World Bank for supporting the construction of large dams and called for support for alternative, small-scale energy projects.
A new Oxford report in 2014 entitled “Should We Build More Large Dams? The true cost of developing mega-projects in hydropower is that “the cost of building large dams is uneconomical and unprofitable, even if we do not take into account the environmental and human impact costs. According to the study, the volume of outflow costs during the construction of the large dam has not decreased since the 1970s. The total cost is so high that it is economically unviable, especially in developing countries.
Namakhvani and Oni cascades, both HPPs are a direct threat, not only for the region but for the whole of western Georgia for several reasons: First, the project does not address seismic risks. . During the 1991 earthquake in Racha, 80 km of land was damaged, and this process continues to this day. It is noteworthy that Namakhvani Dam is being built in such a seismically active section.
Secondly, Georgia is rich in water resources, but due to the melting of glacial cover in the Caucasus due to climate change, these resources may be reduced. However, the Namokhvani project contract states that if the Rioni River will not be enough for the company, they will have the opportunity to take additional resources from the Tskhenistskali River, which will have irreparable environmental consequences in the Tskhenistskali River Basin.
Also, the economic benefits of the project are unclear: under the agreement, the Georgian side undertakes to purchase electricity from Enka for the next 15 years for 6.2 cents, while the price is more expensive than the current tax, and the newly built hydropower plant generates additional energy. The price should be cheaper, not more expensive.
After a brief review of these arguments, the question arises: What public good does this project bring?
Due to all this, the construction of the Namokhvani HPP is unjustified, both ecologically and economically, and socially. And, the damage caused by the construction of this HPP will most likely be irreparable for the whole Rioni Valley and the adjacent regions. This will be the biggest damage for a small country like Georgia.
We, Students express our support and solidarity for the Inhabitants of the Rioni Valley
First and foremost, we would like to express our appreciation to the citizens who have been spending the night in tents in the territory of Rioni Valley for 170 days as of today. An essential part of a strong democracy is to resolve this issue peacefully. Strongly uphold the human rights, accountability and transparency of all people living in Georgia. Georgia should do more in this direction, assess as well as evaluation of losses and benefits, take timely steps and improve energy policy. It is necessary to make the contract available to the public, transparency of processes should be maintained.
Energy independence is essential for Georgia; however, its rational use must be done properly and honestly. If it hurts nature and the locals, this issue should be considered first. The agreement does not take into account not only the common but also the interests of the country. The constitutional and fundamental rights of the Rioni Defenders and the local population are limited.
It is important to pay attention to the common and state interests, to take into account the state and collective interests. Given the current circumstances, it is extremely important to take appropriate steps in a timely manner and unite a divided society, most importantly, the legitimate questions should be answered.
From my standpoint, natural resource management issues should be addressed according to the environment-oriented and the local population interests. In this situation, the decision-making process should be participatory, transparent, and public. The issues involve questions about the safety of the population and territorial, cultural heritage sites. Therefore, A healthy dialogue is essential.
Also, it is crucial to pay attention to the construction of power plant liabilities, according to the EU Association Agreement and the European Parliament resolutions, in addition to the United Nations sustainable development goals. Notably, Georgia needs electricity independence. However, while managing natural resources, the overriding factor is to have a democratic and transparent process; From my perspective, while such historical decisions are being made, locals should have access to accurate and up-to-date information, because this is their constitutional right.
Agreement between the state and the investor, where the obligations, the burden of responsibilities are on the side of the state, and almost unlimited rights, the total profit is in the hands of the investor and Turkish-Norwegian company and the public interest is almost neglected, such an activity from the vast foreign capital is an imperialist act.
Orchestrated and concerted positioning by the HPP construction company and Georgian state institutions. Also, the interference of the ambassadors of Turkey and Norway in the internal affairs of Georgia, which contradicts the fundamental principles of international law, where the first two represents parties and the last two are foreign diplomats and roughly interfere in the internal affairs of the country, is an imperialist manifestation towards Georgia and the local population.
It must be noted that the local community has managed to self-organize for the sake of protecting its local and collective interests, without the help and the mediation of any political party. This type of high civic engagement and the format of articulation of community needs is a rare occurrence in society. The protest is deprived of any acts of violence or provocative behavior, and successfully has been and continues to be peaceful for the duration of the last 5 months.
There have been multiple attempts to label local communities as xenophobic, meanwhile the local community and the Georgian people have demonstrated that tolerance towards different ethnicities has been the part of the culture for dozens of centuries and that the priority of the protest is to defend the collective interest of the community and not the persecution of investors or other representatives of different ethnicities or backgrounds. Therefore, the level of culture and self-organization of the community draws the attention and begs their voices to be heard and understood, at the very least.
Why might a country need a project that will affect its local climate, that will negatively impact the environment? There might be a public economic benefit, which would balance the negative environmental impact. For instance, if the state budget will receive money in tax. However in the case of the Namakhvani Hydro Power plant, the taxes to be paid by the investor are minimal, they get huge tax reductions. We might be needing affordable energy; however, the Namakhvani Hydro Power plant will not provide for that either. Within 15 years after its start of exploitation, the company will be allowed to sell energy, wherever it wishes. As the electricity prices are much lower in Georgia, than, for instance, in neighboring Turkey, the company might not choose to be selling energy in Georgia as well. Finally, as I have heard from different lectures on environmental protection, a hydropower plant does not need too many staff to operate, thus having an extra one in the region will not provide jobs for the many and will not significantly improve the employment rates in the area. The opinions of the local people shall also be given due regard when decisions negatively affecting their livelihoods are being made. The UN Six Climate-Positive Actions to help rebuild economies from COVID-19 Pandemic reiterates the notion of leaving none behind and ensuring that people, who will be affected the most, are appropriately consulted. While studying at the European University Viadrina (Frankfurt Oder, Germany) doing Erasmus Plus International Credit Mobility, I attended a workshop. They were brainstorming a grant application one of the professors was making to the EU-funded science initiative Horizon 2020. The proposal was attempting to create a system, where local communities/energy cooperatives will be given a loan to buy solar batteries, which will provide them with the necessary energy in full or in part. As a part of their energy bills, the community members would be paying towards the community loan. After covering it they might even start receiving a small income if there will be enough energy to not only provide them but also sell it out into the larger grid. This project would have contributed towards equality, community empowerment and would be climate neutral.
The construction of hydropower plants in Georgia should be a guarantee of energy security. However, in the case of Namakhvani HPP, we see not only the violation of state interests, but also the violation of human rights. Under the contract, the company has no liability for damage to nature, nor for the sale of energy on the domestic market. Moreover, the company demands from the state budget to compensate for possible losses. Namakhvani HPP should not be built under such conditions.
First of all, the construction of Namakhvani HPP will have a great impact on the local nature, climate, ecosystem. The largest area will be flooded, people will be forced to leave their homes, submerge their past and memories. The hydropower plant is being built in violation of numerous rules. Also, ecological, geological, seismic risks are not properly studied. Moreover, Namakhvani HPP is not a guarantee of the country’s energy independence. In this situation, it’s difficult for the population to back down and give up. In this case, the risks, dangers, and the loss will be more than the benefits that the HPP will give us.
Georgian society is constantly resisting the implementation of projects that are detrimental to the state-backed country. Thinking about becoming energy-independent is very good. However, endangering our territory and population with its execution – very wrong. As we have a claim to become a member country of the European Union and a part of the civilized space – we must accordingly. Namakhvani HPP should not be built without essential studies and documentation and the state should act in the interests of the country.
We understand the aspirations and efforts of the government to ensure the energy independence of the country through the use of energy resources, but the vector of energy independence of the country should be directed to the reasonable planning of hydropower projects and the proper assessment of the expected risks, which is unfortunately completely neglected. The hydropower plant is being built in violation of numerous rules. Also, ecological, geological, seismic risks are not properly studied. Additionally, the Lower Namakhvani plant would isolate two more villages, causing the resettlement of a total of 297 households in the Tskaltubo Municipality. Therefore, Residents of Tvishi, a village in Tsageri Municipality in the historical Lechkhumi region, as well as experts, have raised concerns over the project’s impact on wine production. Local microclimate zones for vineyards growing the local Tsolikauri and Usakhelauri variety of grapes could be directly affected. Thinking about becoming energy-independent is crucial. However, the safety of our territory and population is our priority.
The Group of Georgian Students