Tensions surge over Serbia’s small hydropower plants

Employees assemble tubes for a hydropower plant in Rakita, Serbia. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Tensions surge over Serbia’s small hydropower plants

  • Rakita locals have spent two years fighting against the power plant, holding protests in Belgrade or closer to home in the town of Pirot. They are not alone

RAKITA, SERBIA: Deep in the isolated forests of eastern Serbia a digger gouges a channel through the trees for a pipeline to siphon river water, as the coal-reliant country’s efforts to clean up its energy habit triggers a hydro “gold rush.”
The remote and sparsely populated Bulgarian border region of Stara Planina, which means Old Mountain in Serbian, is famed for rugged peaks and pristine rivers cascading through dense woodlands. But it is at the heart of a backlash against a rash of controversial small-scale hydro projects, which Serbia has encouraged in order to try to meet ambitious renewables targets as part of efforts to join the EU.
“You are not welcome” reads a signboard in the hamlet of Rakita. The message is aimed at hydropower laborers, who are protected by guards as they work to lay the pipes that will divert up to 90 percent of the local river’s water to an energy-generating turbine.
The rural community views the Raktika River, which runs through the village itself, as a lifeline and fears the plant will devastate fish stocks, cause wells to dry up and deprive livestock of water.
Police intervene regularly to avert clashes.
Rakita locals have spent two years fighting against the power plant, holding protests in Belgrade or closer to home in the town of Pirot. They are not alone.
The battle over energy policy is sweeping through much of the Balkans, where campaigners say the proliferation of small-scale hydropower projects threaten the future of some of Europe’s most unspoilt waterways and the vast swathes of flora and fauna they support.
Environmental group RiverWatch has said there is a “gold rush atmosphere” in the region over the hydropower projects, with some 3,000 planned, many in otherwise protected areas.
“It would be like destroying cathedrals to build shopping malls to make more money,” said RiverWatch founder Ulrich Eichelmann recently in Belgrade.

HIGHLIGHTS

Serbia relies on coal for some 70 percent of its electricity, with hydropower accounting for around a quarter.

Serbia relies on coal for some 70 percent of its electricity, with hydropower accounting for around a quarter. Wind and solar power currently provide only a tiny fraction of its energy.
But the country, which is negotiating EU accession, is keen to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and has signed up to an ambitious renewables target of 27 percent by next year.
The European Commission said the country was “not yet on course” to meet the target in a 2018 report.
The focus has turned to water.
So far, about 100 small hydropower plants have been constructed in Serbia, according to the Environment Ministry.
The EPS state power company is offering heavy subsidies — committing to buy electricity generated by small hydropower plants at a price 50 percent higher than the market rate.
That has attracted wealthy individuals, many with no prior experience.
Contacted by AFP, EPS referred to the Energy Ministry which did not reply.
According to Milos Bakovic Adzic, of the Right to Water association, these plants have become an “easy way” to earn money.
The Belgrade lawyer who finances the Rakita plant could not be reached by AFP.


Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

Updated 16 September 2019

Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

  • The Houthi attacks hit two Aramco sites and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply
  • President Donald Trump said Sunday the US was ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to the attacks

HONG KONG: Oil prices saw a record surge Monday after attacks on two Saudi facilities slashed output in the world’s top producer by half, fueling fresh geopolitical fears as Donald Trump blamed Iran and raised the possibility of a military strike on the country.
Brent futures surged $12 in the first few minutes of business — the most in dollar terms since they were launched in 1988 and representing a jump of nearly 20 percent — while WTI jumped more than $8, or 15 percent.
Both contracts pared the gains but were both still more than 10 percent up.
The attack by Tehran-backed Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, hit two sites owned by state-run giant Aramco and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply.
Trump said Sunday the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attack, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
Tehran denies the accusations but the news revived fears of a conflict in the tinderbox Middle East after a series of attacks on oil tankers earlier this year that were also blamed on Iran.
“Tensions in the Middle East are rising quickly, meaning this story will continue to reverberate this week even after the knee-jerk panic in oil markets this morning,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.
Trump authorized the release of US supplies from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while Aramco said more than half of the five million barrels of production lost will be restored by tomorrow.
But the strikes raise concerns about the security of supplies from the world’s biggest producer.
Oil prices had dropped last week after news that Trump had fired his anti-Iran hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, which was seen as paving the way for an easing of tensions in the region.
“One thing we can say with confidence is that if part of the reason for last week’s fall in oil and improvement in geopolitical risk sentiment was the news of John Bolton’s sacking ... and thoughts this was a precursor to some form of rapprochement between Trump and Iran, then it is no longer valid,” said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.