New hydropower projects in Russia's Far East threaten indigenous peoples' livelihood
The Russian state-owned hydropower corporation RusHydro" and the Chinese "Three Gorges" corporation have signed a deal over the joint realisation of a large project in the Far East of the Russian Federation. The cost of the project may amount up to 230 billion rubles (4 billion EUR or 5 billion USD).
The parties have agreed to set up a joint venture (JV) with RusHydro’s ownership of 51% and CTG holding the remaining 49% for financing, building and operating up to 2,000 MW hydroelectric plants in Russia’s Amur Oblast and Khabarovskiy Kray. The total cost of the projects is estimated at ca. RUB 230 bn; however the construction cost of each project could be revised following the feasibility studies. The partners plan to raise at least 70% of required funds as project financing from primarily Chinese and Russian institutions backed by long-term power purchase agreements. As per the agreement, CTG will be responsible for negotiating the electricity off-take contracts with its Chinese counterparts.», the press release says.
The agreement stipulates feasibility studies for and subsequent construction of 4 hydroelectric power plants: Nizhe-Eyskaya (400 MW), Selemzhinskaya (300 MW), Gilyuiskaya (462 MW) and Lower-Limanskaya (600 MW).
Earlier, the head of RusHydro Yevgeny Dod announced, that the company might proceed with the planning and construction of the first of the proposed four flood control hydroelectric power stations in the far East in 2016.
The construction of such hydroelectric power stations was first proposed after the great flood in the Russian Far East in 2013. In early 2014, RusHydro submitted a proposal for the construction of four hydropower plants in the region to the Ministry of Energy.
It specifically stated: "As reported by the Russian coordinator of the International coalition "Rivers without Boundaries”, Alexander Kolotov, the participants of the IV all-Russian conference of environmental activists "Ecology of Russia: the right to life", held may 28-30, near St. Petersburg, are deeply concerned about the plans to establish new, so-called "anti-flood" hydroelectric power plants in the Amur river basin, whose negative impact on ecosystems and nature reserves cannot be overstated.
The resolution adopted by the conference states that the proposed construction of four HPPs will lead to the degradation of the complex environment of the middle reaches of the Amur river, to the disappearance of spawning areas of many species of fish, to poor water quality and increased erosion - and this list is incomplete. The outcome document was a request to consider other, environmentally safer measures to protect the settlements of the Amur region from flood risk.
According to the plans more than 160,000 hectares are to be flooded, in order to create less than 8 cubic kilometers of flood water storage capacity. This will enable flooding protection for an area of 87,000 ha, i.e. just half of the area that will be flooded. The optimistic forecasts by "RusHydro" expect a decrease of the flood peak in Blagoveshchensk by 25-35 cm for each cubic kilometre of "anti-flood" reservoir capacity, at construction costs of 13 billion rubles (225 million EUR or 270 million USD) per cubic kilometre.
In the 2013 flood only 9 of 30 available cubic kilometres of flood capacity of the Zeya reservoir could be utilized. Thus the quickest and cheapest way to improve flood protection is to improve the functioning of existing reservoirs, rather than to build new ones with just one third of the capacity of the old existing ones. Most likely, it would be sufficient to build a bypass spillway as was done at the at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant and adjust the procedures for the reservoir.
Meanwhile RusHydro and other lobbyists program are successful in diverting attention away from the fact that the new hydropower station will not yield any significant flood control benefit.
In parallel, federal authorities are developing plans to build protective dikes for the settlements in the areas in danger of flooding. Fortunately, in Russia fewer than 2% of the territory of the flooding areas of the floodplains of the Amur river and its tributaries is occupied by settlements, and there is no shortage of land not exposed to flooding risks and the work could be completed within the next 3-5 years.
The coalition “Rivers without Boundaries" and 19 other environmental organizations appealed in March 2014 to the Plenipotentiary representative of the Russian President to the far Eastern Federal District Deputy, Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev and to Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich with a proposal to consider an alternative approach to reducing risks and improving the quality of life in the Russian Amur region.
A comprehensive approach should be based on the use of existing reservoirs, voluntary resettlement of affected villages, the construction of protective dams, limiting the development of floodplains, supporting adapted development strategies and modernization of the infrastructure of the settlements.
The environmentalists suggest to consider alternative comprehensive plan focused on investment into climate adaptation and modernization of settlements in Amur river valley, which will guarantee improvements for local people and drastically reduce losses from inevitable future floods. Such measures cost less and could be implemented much faster than dam building.
The basin of the Amur river and its tributaries are settled by several indigenous peoples, including Evenks, Ulchi, Nanai, Negidals, Nivkh, Udege, Orochi, accounting for about 30 thousand people in total. The livelihood of these indigenous peoples and of the local population living together with them, is comprised of traditional fishing, hunting, herding, gathering, and gardening. These activities would clearly be threatened by the implementation of the proposed projects, which will likely imply resettlements, and flooding of huge areas, destruction of fish spawning areas, poor water quality, soil erosion and other negative impacts.