Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rivers run dry as claims of illegality surround Romania's hydropower boom

Luke Dale-Harris in the Guardian (UK): Deep into the wilderness of Romania's Southern Carpathian mountains, Bogdan Binescu, an avid angler and environmental campaigner, stops by the white waters of a mountain stream. "This river used to be the only route back to civilisation," he says. "But now civilisation has caught up."

A few kilometres on, his meaning becomes clear. Where beech trees had previously risen from the banks of the River Capra, a grey concrete building sits on muddied earth, housing the turbines of a small hydropower plant. Beyond, the river has all but disappeared, its bed of shattered rock and compacted earth now exposed. Between 80 and 90% of the river now flows through a thick metal pipe, carried here from a dam five kilometres upstream.

This is one of more than 500 "micro" hydropower plants operating or in various stages of construction and planning in the largely protected mountains. Together, they will produce less than 4% of the country's energy.

Often subsidised by European funds and with profits boosted by up to 500% from green tariffs – a subsidy drawn from a tax on energy consumers – micro hydropower has quickly become a favoured form of investment.

As profits are highest where the rivers run fast, investors are drawn deep into the mountains, in many cases to state-owned nature parks, protected under EU and domestic law. Binescu says: "Many of these projects are illegal on so many levels that only the powerful and well-connected have access to them." It is this, as much as the ecological impact of the power plants, which has drawn public protests throughout the Carpathians over the last year, in Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria...

A mountain stream in Romania, shot by king-danny, public domain 

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