Po Flet Valbona

"Valbona Speaks Out"


Po Flet Valbona (“Valbona Speaks Out”) is an informational campaign presenting the complex issues surrounding hydropower development in Valbona Valley National Park. By presenting information in a question-and-answer format. (read more)


1. What’s happening in Valbona?In 2016 we discovered that 3 companies have 3 concessions to build up to 14 “small” hydropower plants along 30km of the Valbona River. Since then, a growing number of local people, with the local NGO TOKA, and supported by activists and artists both Albanian and international, have been fighting together to stop the construction. Construction of the first small HPP started in 2014, with two more plants beginning construction in September 2016.
2. What’s wrong with Hydropower in Valbona?The hydropowers in Valbona are “run of river” – this means that for each HPP, a section of the river is removed, and put into a tunnel or tube. Most of the Valbona HPP tunnels are 3km long. The longest one is 6km. With 14 hydropowers approved, and each HPP placed where the last one stops, this means that in the HPP locations, the river will be changed and virtually dry, as up to 80% of the water will run in underground tubes, emerging above only long enough to pass through a turbine before entering the next tunnel.
3. If there’s no river, what will we see instead?Instead of a blue river, we will have at most 20% of water left, or possibly dry river beds, filled with small dams and reservoirs, powerhouse factories and tall metal high tension power cables.
4. Where exactly is this happening?The 14 HPP are in two clusters:
- 8 plants inside the valley and national park (from Dragobi and extending east)
- 6 plants starting above Bajram Curri and finishing in Bujan.
The Valbona Valley cluster take the water from 15km of the rivers. It will impact 10km of the Valbona River and will cause the total disappearing of the Cerem, Motina, Milloshi and Shpanik streams.
The Dojan cluster will affect 15km of river and tributaries. It will create an artificial lake in Bujan, flooding farmland and archeological sites. Together, these 6 plants may remove most of the river from Bajram Curri, Dojan and Bujan.
Occasionally the government claims that plans for some of the hydropowers have been abandoned, but to date there is no formal cancellation of any of the 14 plants.
5. How are people affected if most of the rivers disappear?During Summer 2017, local communities in the Valbona villages of Dragobi had no drinking and irrigation water for three months. Their drinking water springs disappeared.
During the heavy rains of Winter 2017-2018, the erosion caused by the construction and the tunnels, caused flooding in areas it had never happened before.
Local, national and international visitors will lose the attractions with most water to swim, raft or fish in, including landmarks, such as the river by “Ura e Valbonës”, a traditional and highly popular spot for locals to enjoy the river.
The panorama of the Valbona Valley National Park will be seriously affected by dry riverbeds, iron towers, cement constructions and industrial building sites.
With the negative impacts on tourism, the local economy in the Tropoja Region will suffer, with many guides, waiters, artisans, taxi drivers losing their jobs, and many hotels, guest houses and small restaurants losing their clients.
With Valbona being declared a national park and praised in cultural references, such as music and literature, we Albanians will lose a valuable national asset that belongs to all of us.
6. If we sacrifice these 30km of rivers, will everything else be okay?No. Without the river, in Valbona the temperatures will rise, and the humidity will drop, which means that a lot of the surrounding forest will certainly change and even die.
Without drinking and irrigation water, a lot of people in Dragobi will have to emigrate to other areas.
And we know from the Lum River example in Gryka e Vaneve outside of Kukesi, where 10 HPP were built, the fish will disappear.
7.  Do HPP represent "public interest"?Despite having permission from the government, the HPP are not public works - they are privately owned.  There is no power purchase agreement in place, so the developers do not have to sell the power generated to the Albanian state and people. They could keep it to use for their own developments for example.  But even if they chose to sell the energy created, the state will be buying the power – probably at guaranteed and high prices - so there is no net gain for the people.
8. Will the HPP in Valbona help improve the power shortage in the country?The energy produced by Valbona's projects is minimal, with plans to operate MAXIMUM for 50 days of the year, ie less than two months. A household with all normal appliances needs 2-4kw of energy capacity. These hydropower plants will have an operating capacity of 20 mw - 20,000 kw. This means that these two hydro power plants will be able to supply 5,000-10,000 households with electricity, but ONLY when operating during the precipitation period (less than two months). So these HPPs will not contribute significantly to the needs of Albania, or even to Tropoja with 20,000 inhabitants.
9. Do the HPP create jobs?The HPP do not create jobs.  During construction, only 5 local people have been employed - as cleaners and watchmen.  One average restaurant in the area creates more and better paying jobs than the whole HPP development.
10. If this is such a terrible idea, how did it happen?Around 500 concessions for small HPPs were granted between 2009 and 2013, on almost every river in Albania. More continue to be issued today.
According to Transparency International, a group of international and independent observers, Albania is ranked and perceived as a state with a high corruption index. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) defines corruption as "abusing public resources for private benefit."
It is unclear why Gener-2 are investing millions of Euros in HPPs that seem to have poor expectations to return the investment or generate profits.
11. Aren’t there mechanisms to protect against bad developments?The Law requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for each project. An EIA is supposed to study the existing situation, and judge whether a development can be built without negatively impacting the environment.
The EIA in the case of Valbona contains no scientific analysis and contains serious inaccuracies regarding the ecosystem. It fails to consider the impact on the existing biodiversity and totally ignores the fact that the HPP are built in a National Park, against the law.
By signing the Bern Convention in 1995, Albania is committed to protect species such as the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos). The EIA in the case of Valbona mentions the Brown Bear as a living species in the park. Even for this reason alone, the EIA should invalidate itself.
In the case of the Tplani HPP, the government apparently did not even require an EIA.
Another concern is that the EIA are written for each HPP individually, without evaluating the combined effect of all 14 HPP plants together.
There are other permits required (archeological, water-use, construction, etc) each with their own requirements, but in Valbona construction has been allowed to continue even when they do not have valid permits.
So there are mechanisms, but they are not enforced.
12. But isn’t Valbona a National Park? Isn’t it protected?Under the Law on protected areas in effect at the time of the concessions, a National Park is defined as an area “unique under national and international values, the majority of which are natural ecosystems, minimally impacted by human activity, where plants, animals and the natural and physical environment are of particular scientific and educational importance.”
This definition alone would suggest that the creation of “human impacts” would legally contradict the purpose of the park.
Also in effect at the time of concession was a law forbidding “industrial developments, high tension power lines, and roads” in a national park. Unfortunately, hydropower was not specifically included in the short list of examples of industrial developments, and this has been used to argue that hydropower were not specifically forbidden. The power lines to remove the energy produced clearly were and are forbidden.
As the examples given were however ONLY examples, the law was clarified in June 2017, and hydropowers were specifically forbidden inside a national park. So the law now makes it clear that you cannot have hydropower inside a National Park.
Thus the government now formally acknowledges that hydropower has a negative effect on the quality of the ecosystem of a protected area, and is incompatible with the definition of a national park:  "An area minimally impacted by human activity."  There is no more discussion needed over whether the HPP will cause damage or not.  It is clear and acknowledged by the law that they do and will, and should not be allowed in a National Park such as Valbona.
So yes. A national park is protected – on paper, but apparently not in reality.
13.  Are the administrative and legal systems functioning? Has there been a judgment “for” HPP?Since January 2016, of the more than 25 formal requests for information filed by local people in Valbona, most received no answer. The responses which did arrive consisted almost entirely of formal information that the request should be addressed to someone else.
Of numerous calls on the regional and national inspectorates to verify whether the hydropowers were working with valid permits (when we knew they were not), and requests to receive copies of the inspectorates’ monitoring reports: Most requests were not answered at all.
Occasionally a one page letter was returned stating “all permits are in order” even though at the same time the lawyers for Ministry of Energy and the National Territorial Council were admitting in court that the Dragobia Energy Company did not have a valid construction permit. No monitoring reports were ever received.
Instead, inspections were carried out on small householders and local hotels, handing out fines and threatening to bulldoze buildings.
Albanian media has reported that the court ruled "for the Hydropower" in November 2017. THIS IS FALSE.  The court threw out the first suit of TOKA and 27 locals saying that the public has no right to criticize the government in this situation, despite Aarhus rights which guarantee people the right to: Information, Involvement in decision-making and the Right to judicial recourse in all developments affecting people's environment. 
14. What have people done about this?In the complete absence of public consultations, and with very little current transparency from the government, since 2016 local people in Tropoja have first of all been rushing to educate themselves on the situation. For two years, they have been struggling – and slowly succeeding – in their attempt to understand the laws, their rights, and the reality of the hydropower situation.
As time passes, it becomes less and less possible to believe that the hydropower developments may be less than catastrophic, and people increasingly understand that they must fight now to protect their homes, and the future of their children.
15. What has been done to legally fight the HPP?In May 2017, local NGO TOKA and 27 inhabitants filed a lawsuit claiming the absolute invalidity of the Dragobia Energy Concession, suing the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure with various other government ministries in administrative court.
In January 2018 they filed an additional suit in administrative court against the National Territorial Council for granting a new construction permit in November 2017 to the hydropower, in direct contradiction of the new law on protected areas of June 2017.
In March 2018, 30 inhabitants of Dragobia village and NGO TOKA filed criminal charges against the village head and Dragobia Energy official who signed and stamped approvals of 20 signatures of a public consultation they claimed to have conducted in 2013. Of the 20 signatures, two people were dead at the time of their signing.
Further legal actions are pending. To date they have not abandoned legal recourse, or faith in being able to force the government and justice system to function.
16. What else has been done?The protests, locally and in Tirana, the costs of people travelling to court and television interviews, the legal costs and the costs of publicity and information materials has totaled over 20,000euro to date. These funds were raised entirely by local people, working to gain donations and financial support from international NGOs. In the poorest part of Albania, raising these funds has been a great victory.
Locals have also lobbied government officials, participated in a parliamentary inquiry, gained the support of the diplomatic community. They have given countless interviews in national and some international media.
And they have protested peacefully.
17.  Is the battle to save Valbona near the end, or hopeless?No.
There is already some ugly construction, but this only exposes what the developers intend to do, regardless of what they say publicly about environmental sensitivity and their intent to rehabilitate Valbona.
The construction in the rivers can still be removed easily.  The power houses have not begun construction.
The power lines (iron towers) have not started construction, and as far as we know, they have no permissions - although the company has been taking measurements for towers on people's private land.  They claim to have permission, although they have no legal agreements with the owners of the land, nor has the government formally expropriated the land (as required by Albanian Law).  And EVEN after all that - EU law and standards will eventually demand that the HPP are removed - at huge cost to the tax payers of course.
So now is not the time to give up, but the time to move forward together.
18. What can we DO to save Valbona and the other rivers in Albania?Every little action you make to support the cause of Valbona and the other rivers of Albania, can have a drastic impact on the community, developers and decision makers. Here are some suggestions that will enable YOU to become a significant supporter of the cause: What Can I Do?