Green energy and the Weeping Valleys (II): We produce green energy excessively, without being able to store it. Public authorities’ response: We don’t know, we don’t have this information…
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In a first episode of this investigation we told the story of a “chain” of micro-hydropower plants designed by a joint Romanian-Austrian company in Măguri Răcătău – Cluj, which received environmental permits although the targeted area of Someşul Rece is included as a protected site in Natura 2000.
Meanwhile, in the meeting of November 13th 2013, The Regulatory Committee of NARE (National Authority for Energy Regulation) preliminary authorized the hydropower development MHC1 Răcătău of ATS Energy, thus starting to operate. According to the environmental project obtained by ATS, another two micro-hydropower plants are expected to be built on Someşul Rece.
“What benefits brings for our village this construction? It brings absolutely no benefit, only the tax from this investment, being on the territory of our village, which for us is a pretty substantial amount, several hundred million ROL per year. The roads will also be repaired and this is an advantage for us, as we drive on a God forbid route now”, explains the mayor of Măguri Răcătău, Petru Prigoană.
He states not knowing about Someşul Rece being included in Natura 2000’s protection plan, and if so, the mistake of endorsing the constructions shouldn’t be attributed to the Local Council of Măguri, but to the County Council and the Environmental Guard. “We are the smallest ones. If it was a Natura 2000 site, they wouldn’t be giving so many permits, right?” says the mayor using a European logic.
Another problem arises: according to the environmental organization World Wild Fund (WFF), in the past few years, Romania would have already fulfilled the production plan for 2020 regarding green energy “per ha” through intensive development of the green certificate business. Furthermore, although we produce green energy, we don’t have the means to store the surplus. To give you a more complete picture on this subject, you should also know that, according to the preliminary information from the 2011 census, in that year, in Cluj County there were 7.424 homes without electricity and in the North-West another 37.011 such houses. Nationally, 3.7% of the conventional houses don’t have electricity. That means 284.434 homes in which a light bulb was never lit – a nineteenth century invention. Most of these locations are in remote, mountain areas, where electrical network expansion happens so slowly that it could be measured in people’s lives. In some of these areas where nothing ever happens, they’re building now micro-hydropower plants – private investments through which the water from the river mountains will provide in the national energy system the necessary bureaucratic percentage of “green energy” to make us look good in the European statistics. However, nobody says a word about the expected environmental destruction.
Northwestern region non-electrified
The counties in the area with the smallest degree of non-electrified houses are Sălaj and Bihor. In Bihor, 1560 households survive without electricity, while in Sălaj only two small villages located on Ragului Valley have the same situation: the villages of Horoatu Crasnei (7 houses) and Drojeşti – belonging to the town of Stîrciu; the village of Pericei (5 houses) – belonging to the town of Pericei. In 2013, SC Electrica S.A. SDEE Alba recorded in Alba County 495 households in 28 rural communities without electricity, for which the total cost of bringing light in their homes would be 20 million RON.
According to data provided by the Prefect, the “star” county of the Northwest, Cluj, has the following situation in terms of electrification: considering the last census, 4640 rural households still don’t have electricity, implying an extension of the supply network of 458 km – that’s about the distance from Cluj to Constanţa – whereas the number of non-electrified houses in the cities is smaller and it would require only 80.57 km of network. We’re surprised to discover that half of these homes without electricity in the twenty-first century are actually located in the county’s seat, Cluj-Napoca, The Heart of Transylvania.
The Government promised in 2010 to conclude the complete electrification of the country by 2012, yet last year, the Ministry of Economy postponed the “completion” for 2016. According to their calculations, we had 2240 communities living at candle light, a larger number than they acknowledged in the Romanian Energy Strategy for 2007-2020 (quoted at the beginning of this text), thus involving a cost of 1 billion RON for extending the network.
“In terms of the length of electrified lines, the North West has the lowest value on a national level (only 312 km in 2011), with a share of 7.7% of the national network, considering this area represents the infrastructural connection of Romania with Western Europe”, says a draft of ADR NV regarding transport development in the area. Another Government analysis document shows that in the past 20 years, travelling by train takes longer than it did in 1990, instead of taking less time. For instance, on the route Cluj-Napoca – Dej, the percentage is 164% higher than it was in 1990. Furthermore, in the past 21 years, the route Cluj – Brasov extended for one hour and 18 minutes more.
However, if we judge by the invasion of micro-hydropower plants pumping the national system with “green energy”, it would appear that the most “electrical” areas are exactly northern Oriental Carpathians (Maramureş, Bistriţa Năsăud) and Apuseni Mountains.
Who keeps track of the micro-hydropower plants on the rivers?
When asked, the Romanian authorities are unable to provide information regarding the number of plants which concluded contracts with the state. Under the law 544/2001, we requested information regarding the county of Cluj and the Apuseni area, but we were sent from Hidroelectrica to Electrica Furnizare Transilvania Nord, then Electrica Distribuţie Transilvania Nord, just to eventually find out these contracts are concluded at a central level. We waited a couple of weeks for an answer from SC Electrica Furnizare SA, only to get as a response the website address opcom.ro – a state-owned company subordinated to Transelectrica through which the “players” of the energy market sell their products to be integrated in the national system. The head of public relations of Electrica SA, Elena Voinea, informed us that all the plants they had owned were handed over to Hidroelectrica “2004 or 2005” and the energy produced by these is sold on the “free market”. But who are the operators certified by the state to enter this market? Electrica “doesn’t have any information”. One of the PRs from OPCOM – The Electricity Market Operator Company (founded in 2000), Monica Săndulescu, declared she “does not know if such data is available” and “the CEO will sign the paper in case we hold them”.
In the meantime, we came across a summary of authorized operators to use green certificates conducted by the National Energy Regulatory Authority (NERA) in September 2012 (see below). According to it, the micro-hydropower plants operators could produce simultaneously 444.66 MWh of electricity. Only 43.26 MW is refurbished energy from the old existing power plants, while 94.03MW comes from the new investments. In this table, the biggest holder of micro-hydropower plants is Hidroelectrica SA. However, since then, in the summer of 2012, the plants were auctioned and sold and we don’t know anything yet about the new private investors. For instance, in Cluj, all the old micro-hydropower plants were bought by a company which distributes medical equipment, Three Pharm SRL, owned by millionaire Claudiu Ugran from Târgu-Mureş.
Ugran and his business partner Sorin Pastor own the company Anvergo, of which the local press says it would be “subscribed” to contracts with Romgaz.
The only ones who seem to realize the danger of overexploitation of rivers in Romania by the fact that investments in micro-hydropower plants are out of control are the environmental organization World Wild Fund (WWF). In October they even launched an awareness brochure, urging the Romanian Government to draw up a master plan regarding water use and to change the current legislation that allows anyone to build a micro-hydropower plant on any river, disregarding the protected areas, the environment and the fact that the produced energy is too low to justify the risks.
WWF has drawn up a map marking the existing micro-hydropower plants at this moment: the yellow dots are those plants having an installed capacity below 1 MW; the red dots are investments with power between 1-10MW (they’re also found in NERA’s plan) and the black dots – the largest number – are those buildings for which the installed capacity is unknown. (Maps are available in the above gallery).
“Our campaign to save the mountain rivers is not intended to stop economic development. On the contrary, it seeks to implement a long-term economic vision for people and nature. Experience has shown us that the chaotic development of micro-hydropower plants has created great prejudices so far, in the most cases, putting at risk not only nature, but also the sustainability of many areas”, says Magor Csibi, director of WWF-Romania. The organization keeps track of 500 micro-hydropower plants that would currently exist in Romania in various stages of approval, construction or operation. The main argument against the chaotic construction of micro-hydropower plants is creating instability in river ecosystems through destruction of the upstream breeding sites for fish, some of which are protected by law. (To be continued)
Translated by Alexandra Scoarţă (c) iEst.ro.
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