news 27 Dec 16

Serbian Church in Montenegro Slams Planned Dams

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro has criticized a plan to built hydropower plants on the river Moraca, claiming it could endanger an ancient monastery in the river canyon.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Moraca Monastery. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Djordje Stakic.

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro said that it had formed a committee for the protection of nature and cultural and spiritual values of the Moraca River after the government revealed plans to build several hydropower plants there.

The Serbian Church - the largest faith group in Montenegro - said the planned power plants posed a threat to the river canyon and to a 13-century monastery, which is an important pilgrimage site.

It accused the government of granting a concession to Chinese and Turkish companies to build the plants without conducting a study on the likely negative impacts.

"It is not just about the threat to the Moraca monastery, which may result not only in the collapse of the site on which it is located ...  but ... could endanger the magnificent canyon with its genuine natural beauties," the Church said.

The government in November said it planned to grant a concession contract for the construction of a dozen hydropower plants on the Moraca river.

However, it denied the Church's allegations that it already reached a deal with Chinese and-and Turkish companies.

A Chinese company, Norinco, has offered to build five hydropower plants on the Moraca and three more on three of its tributaries, the Mrtvica, Sjevernica and Mala. All eight plants would have an annual production of 894.82 GWh. The Turkish company Bereket Energy would reportedly construct four more power plants.

However, the Economy Ministry in November declined to commit itself to any companies, noting that other companies from Turkey and Slovenia had also expressed an interest.

"The selection of the investors and further steps will depend on the offers we receive and how they will be assessed," the ministry said.

After environmental organizations condemned the plans to build dams on the Moraca, the government also vowed to follow best international practices in the field of environmental protection “based on highest European standards".

The well-known Podgorica-based NGO Green Home has urged the government to protect the canyon as an area of high natural value - and dump the plants plan.

"The government should listen to the voice of civil society and acknowledge that the plan for hydropower plants on Moraca is economically and environmentally unacceptable," it said.

In April, the international watchdog World Wildlife Fund, WWF, said the Moraca river was one of the few free-flowing remaining rivers in Europe and a biodiversity hotspot.

The river is a home to several protected fish species such as the endangered endemic Skadar gudgeon [Gobio skadarensis] found only in the Skadar Lake basin and the Lower Moraca.

"The biggest threat to the Moraca is the Montenegrin government’s plan to build a series of hydropower plants," WWF warned.

The latest EU progress report on Montenegro, in November, also said new energy sources, particularly hydropower, should conform with the relevant EU legislation on an environment.

Any assessment of potential new projects should take into account the impact on areas of high nature interest, the EU said. 

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