Albania rethinking hydro policy on environmental concerns

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania wants to make the environment a key measure of its energy policy and study whether its small hydro power plant strategy is worth pursuing, a government minister said on Thursday.

Belinda Balluku, the energy and infrastructure minister, said she was freezing work on new hydro plants, launching a review just four days into her job.

The investigation into 182 licenses issued to build 440 hydro plants stems from a plan to build a small plant on a river in southeastern Albania, which protesters said would endanger a waterfall key to tourism in a poor area.

Balluku said it was time to take stock of why most of the contracts were not “operational”, to evaluate the policy of encouraging small hydropower plants, and to decide upon the way forward.

“We need a perfect balance between economic development and the protection of the our natural riches, which are the greatest wealth we Albanians have,” Balluku said in a statement.

Since mid-2000 when a shortage of electricity supply caused long power cuts, successive Albanian governments have signed contracts to build, mostly small, hydropower plants, but so far only 96 plants are fully operational, Balluku said.

Balluku said the damage these small hydro power plants caused could outweigh any economic gain.

“I have decided to freeze all non-operational contracts until we have a report detailing their status,” Balluku added.

The review will ascertain if contractors have built the plants as specified and to deadline, and whether they have complied with environmental requirements, she said.

Reporting by Benet Koleka,; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle