By Victor Berisha
The Kosova e Re plant will be built in violation of Kosovo’s Environmental Impact Assessment law, on top of other violations that have been raised before and never addressed.
New information obtained by BIRN has revealed that another violation has been made by the Kosovo government regarding the Kosova e Re Power Plant (KRPP). On December 21, 2018, an Environmental Consent for the building of the plant was issued, despite the fact that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report, EIA, had not been made public.
The EIA is required by Kosovo law to be made available to the public before any public debates take place, in order to give people enough time to read and respond to it. Instead, what has happened is that the obligatory public debates with the affected community have happened pro forma, with all but one taking place before the EIA was even submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, MESP.
News of the Environmental Consent being granted was revealed to the public on January 22, when Bernhard Haider, a representative from ContourGlobal, held a presentation during a government meeting regarding developments on the KRPP project, which was conducted in English and with no translation. The sole fact that the public received the news regarding the Environmental Consent at this presentation demonstrates the lack of transparency in the process.
According to Kosovar legislation, in order for the Environmental Consent to be awarded, the applicant must submit an EIA report. Point 1 of article 20 of the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment, which is titled ‘Public debate for the EIA report’, states that “the main conclusions and recommendations, included in the EIA Report and the proposal decision for environmental consent shall be subject to public debate.” As of Feb 22, the EIA report is still not available to the public, making any public discussions non-compliant with the law.
According to MESP documents, the EIA report was first submitted by ContourGlobal on September 28, 2018. The MESP then sent a request for further information on December 12, 2018, as the information provided was not deemed credible and lacking a factual basis. The further information was provided by ContourGlobal on December 17, 2018, and the Environmental Consent was granted by the MESP on December 21.
At the meeting on January 22, Benard Haider, a representative of Contour Global stated that: “We held more than 20 public hearings in the villages around the power plant and the mine to receive feedback. We have a very detailed implementation plan and management plan in place, which we have to implement to secure low environmental and low social impact coming out of this project.”
However, the social impact assessment is yet to be conducted, nor is it required under Kosovo legislation, which is a problem in itself. As for the 20 public hearings, the majority took place between September 10 and September 20, before the EIA report was even submitted.
The Environmental Consent document also reveals that ContourGlobal organized a public debate on 22 November 2018, at the Municipal Assembly of Obiliq. According to information sent to BIRN by the MESP, the meeting lasted 2.5 hours and 41 people were present. According to 2011 census, the number of inhabitants in the Obiliq Municipality is estimated over 21,000.
According to the same document, there was a presentation regarding the new power plant, where citizens debated the issue and there were no objections regarding the project. However, nowhere does it state that citizens had access to the EIA Report, or that the EIA Report was available to the public.
According to the Law on EIA, the public debate should have happened after the proposal decision on the Environmental Consent was reached and publicized, meaning after December 21, 2018. This seems especially pressing in this case taking into consideration the fact that on December 12 the MESP requested further explanations regarding the EIA Report.
It is a violation of the law to proceed with public debates before the EIA was concluded and especially before the EIA was made available to the public. To this day, the EIA for the biggest energy project Kosovo has embarked on since the end of the war is still not available to the public, as it is not anywhere on either the MESP or ContourGlobal website.
BIRN Kosovo, as the media arm of the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development, KOSID, sent a freedom of information request to the MESP to access the EIA report, which the Ministry granted in print recently in mid-February 2019.
When the MESP was challenged about why the EIA is not publicly available, they told BIRN that their website is not functioning properly. After BIRN requested the information in late January, the Ministry belatedly made the environmental consent decisionavailable to the public in mid-February. Nevertheless, the EIA, which is the key document that should have been available before the public debates took place, is still not yet publicly available.
Kosovo, as a signatory party of the Energy Community Treaty, has concrete obligations towards matters related to energy efficiency, environmental protection, and regulating energy, including an EU Directive on EIAs.
Clearly, this is another violation during this project, on top of those that have been raised before, even by institutions outside Kosovo.
In June 2018, the Energy Community in Vienna raised concerns in relation to the project’s impact on electricity prices, fearing that the Kosovar public will be paying a higher price per unit, compared to market prices, a breach of free energy market rules.
The Kosovo government has yet to respond to that concern, which means that Kosovo citizens are still stuck with a project that will likely oblige them to pay double the energy price to the one available in the market, in addition to all other externalities and challenges that a fossil fuel thermal power plant poses to citizens.
In October last year, the World Bank pulled out of supporting KRPP, as the project is based on burning coal, and is thus damaging to the environment in a time when the world is trying to cut down its CO2 emissions, and when there are more financially sound renewable energy options available.
Earlier in 2018, civil society pointed out that another violation on this project occurred during the bidding process, as the contract award breached Kosovo Procurement Laws, which requires that there should be at least two bidders for a project like KRPP.
Article 32.4 of the Law on Public Procurement, states that: “If during the conduct of a procurement activity, less than two (2) responsive tenders or, where applicable, requests to participate are received; the contracting authority shall cancel the procurement activity.” In this case, ContourGlobal was the only bidder left, after other bidders pulled out of the process.
One may wonder how many more violations it will take for successive governments in Kosovo to understand that this project is doomed to failure?
Viktor Berishaj is Environmental Researcher and BIRN Kosovo’s Project Manager on Environment Project