Small hydropower plants in the Balkans soon a thing of the past?

The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) announced Nov. 26 that starting in 2021, the government would no longer provide subsidies that support the construction of small hydropower plants. This decision could help set a precedent across the Mediterranean area. The first neighboring countries have already followed suit.

Hydro power plant Mala Bjevala in BiH

Construction site at the Mala Bjelava small hydro power plant in Bosnia-Herzegovina: In addition to the river, the adjacent nature is also affected by the construction of roads and power lines

© Robert Oroz
Brave women of Kruščica block a bridge

The "Brave Women of Kruščica": laureated with the EuroNature Prize 2019 for their courage in defying the hydropower lobby.

© Andrew Burr

Starting on January 1, 2021, the guaranteed subsidies for small hydropower plants will not be extended, and the funds provided for that will be redirected as incentives to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. The new bylaws could help prevent the construction of at least 162 small hydropower projects on 79 rivers.

Hydropower plants divert water, and restrict access to water for local communities for drinking and use in agricultural practices and other livelihoods. Across the country, local communities, such as those around the Neretvica and Kruščica rivers, have been rising up and holding protests, often forming human walls at construction sites to prevent bulldozers from starting the work. The "brave women of Kruščica" were awarded 2019 with the EuroNatur Award for this. Many Bosnia and Herzegovina residents consider the rivers a part of their identity.

“Cancelling the subsidies for hydropower is the most important step to save the rivers, because it limits the two root causes of dam construction: money and corruption,” said Ulrich Eichelmann, Executive director of Riverwatch, our partner organisation within the campaign 'Save the Blue Heart of Europe'. “As long as you can make a fortune by destroying rivers, dams will be built. The FBiH can become a trend-setter for protection of rivers for the whole of Europe", said Eichelmann.

In fact, only a few days later the designated head of government of Montenegro announced that he also wanted to stop subsidies for hydro power plants in his country. Furthermore, the Portuguese government has also decided to withdraw from the state subsidy for hydro power.

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