Green energy and the Weeping Valleys. The Rivers of Apuseni are threatened by investments in protected areas

Bianca Felseghi @ 09 January 2014 in EAST SIDE STORIES

This post is also available in: Romanian

“Everything will be remotely controlled here. In the summer, we’ll sit in our shorts and get tanned by the lake”, says with a wide gesture of his hand the guard of the micro-hydropower plant site in Dobruş. The 6 km of canal that will take up a third of the water flowing Răcătău Valley have been already buried near the riverbed, the concrete dam was built, waiting only for the remote button to be pressed to fall like a guillotine in the middle of the river.
This is the pilot from a series of three episodes regarding the micro-hydro power plants designed in the area by a private company. One of them, on the Someşul Rece River, has been endorsed by the authorities, although it will be built in an area protected by the eco-network Natura 2000, where, by law, hydropower developments are forbidden.

Photos by Raul Stef.

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Dobruş – end of the line
Dobruş is a small village located at the bottom of Cluj County, 1200 meters altitude in the Apuseni Mountains, somewhere between Alba County and the „land of Avram Iancu” from Mărişel to Crucea Iancului. There’s only one family living there now, one smoke up the chimney, the rest of the wooden houses being used only in the summer by the lumberjacks and shepherds passing by.

“There used to be more people in Dobruşu back in the ‘70s, when they were working on the hydropower plants. It was then when this family from Alba settled down here selling food to workers. And then everybody left, but they stayed”, explains a cunning hitchhiker from the neighboring village, Măguri Răcătău.
The wide valley falls unexpectedly into a little stream flowing into the bed of Someşul Rece River. Glistening boulders and moss overflow the river-banks. Threatening rock slides evoke the waterfall echoes of blustering torrents. ATS Energy company is planning to build here two micro-hydropower plants. However, in 2006, the upper course of Someşul Rece River was included as a protected area in the site Natura 2000. And if the investment in Dobruş is almost completed, on the upper side of Someşul Rece, two steps away from an embouchure that splashes the river right in the middle at Beliş -Valea Caldă, the construction is as good as finished. The machines are only waiting for the green light to dig the river-bed, cover it with concrete and bury the pipes. And this is only the beginning: ATS obtained in 2009 an environmental agreement that grants them the right to build 5 of these constructions on Someşul Rece.

“The river Someşul Rece is dearly loved by fishermen. It is indeed a beautiful mountain river. However, this is not the issue: when these power plants will be built, the water flow will not be enough to sustain certain species of fish, as it will stream mostly through the underground pipes. The whole biosystem will be affected: there are insects breeding on the water, then there’s the common European adder living on the rock slide near the river and also the yellow-bellied toad (a frog, Ed)”, says Mihai Vasilescu, Secretary of the Romanian Federation of Fly Fishing (RFFF).

Sit Natura 2000
We see in the document attesting Someşul Rece as a part of the natural heritage that several species of fish will be protected: the danubian longbarbel gudgeon (Gobio uranoscopus), the golden loaches (Sabanejewia aurata), the European bullhead (Cottus gobio), and the Carpathian brook lamprey (Eudontomyzon danfordi). We also find out that “all drains and digs which could decrease / increase the water are forbidden”, as well as “any intervention involving a construction on the stream of water that can be a barrier to fish movement”.

“Do you see that window? It’s for the fish”, explains with enthusiasm the guard at Dobruşu, pointing to a small concrete crate underwater. “But how are the fish supposed to know they have to pass through there?”He wears plastic slippers and a thick sweatshirt pulled over some black jeans. He slowly shrugs his shoulders, as if he’d say “They’ll learn!”

The RFFF Organization requested from the Environmental Protection Agency to reanalyze the environmental agreement obtained by ATS Energy in 2009, showing that, according to the law, it loses its validity if the investment doesn’t start within 2 years. Being the beneficiary, ATS Company asked on the 4th of October 2013 a reassessment of the agreement, especially because, somehow, out of 5 initially authorized micro-hydropower plants, only 3 were built. Eventually, they withdrew their request of reappraisal.

The area between the two rivers in question is located in Măguri Răcătău commune. It’s a plentiful highland scattered with lonesome houses neatly arranged in their parcels and having wooden fences around them. Compared to the Valley of Gârda, in Răcătău the mountain is wilder, rising from the forests in solitary rocks, as if the stone expanded from a microwave, now overflowing the area. Illegal logging left a heartbreaking sadness over the slopes, leaving the ground covered with splinters of wood, taken from the sacrificed forests which were sold off per m³. Now it seems it’s water’s turn to catch on the steps of trees.

ATS Energy and the Romanian Energy Strategy
In the 2009 environment agreement of ATS it is specified that 18.5 km of the river are targeted for development, following an energetic intake included in the national system of 3.015 MW per hour. This corresponds approximately to the electric consumption of an apartment within a year.


The Government of Romania approved a document, “Energetic Strategy of Romania for 2007-2020, updated for 2011-2020” showing that one out of the 28 objectives of the national energy sector development is “to promote energy production from renewable resources, so that the share of electricity produced from these sources in total gross consumption will reach 35% in 2015 and 38% in 2020; 24% of the gross domestic energy consumption shall be provided from renewable sources by 2020.”(pt. B1)
By 2015, 25.14% of the produced green energy must be provided by the micro-hydropower plants. By 2020, production capacity of micro-hydropower plants and hydropower plants must reach 18.9 TWh.

Therefore, considering only the households, if 1 TWh (a terra watt per hour) equals 1 million MWh, 18.9 means a guaranteed input for about 5-8 million households. If we count 4 residents per household, we get to 20-32 million.
This generically called “green” energy is bought by the Romanian state from private investors through Electrica SA and incorporated into the national energy system. The investors get up to 3 green certificates for every 1 MWh of produced hydroenergy.
The areas of potential for hydropower development mentioned in the quoted document are the following: Moldova, the Carpathian Mountains, the Transylvanian Plateau and the Subcarpathians. “Experts say that because of the growth and diversity of pressure on the limited resources of watercourses, by 2030 we’ll reach a reduction of capacity for the water supply up to 40% from the existing level, which is a major economic threat and a challenge for the communities’ strength and durability. However, considering this conditioning doesn’t exist, we can say that in terms of hydroenergy produced in the small and micro plants, the current scheme for renewable energy in Romania encourages the building of a very large number of plants, without any proper planning and evaluation, thus destroying the river eco-systems of our country.” alert the environmentalists from World Wide Fund for Nature after a similar project to those proposed by ATS nearly dried up Capra River in Fagaras Mountains.

This interactiv map made by fabricadecercetare.ro shows every green power investment built or projected in Romania as far as February 2013.  The blue bubbles are the micro-hydro power plants/FOTO: pescuitlamusca.roIn other words, European law asked for a domestic consumption of renewable energy growth to a quarter of the total produced. The number of private investment initiatives is of thousands, yet the micro-hydropower plants produce too little and they’re chaotically constructed, without taking into consideration the environmental risks (see photo below). For instance, a several million euro investment in hydro-energy, financed by European funds, can turn into an extremely profitable business whose costs are quickly liquidated since public funds cover the construction. The state buys the produced energy and the beneficiary can further trade the achieved green certificates separately from the energy produced on the Green Certificates Market.

ATS Energy is one of the most important players on the renewable energy market in Transylvania. It was founded in 2007 – the year of implementation of national energy strategy. Associates of this company are IMWind Immobillien – WindKraft Verwaltungs – und Beteilingungs from Austria and three businessmen from Cluj: Dorin Săcară, Sorin Bădău and Adrian Şchiopu.

In 2012, according to information from the Trade Register, ATS Energy was divided into seven clone companies, each of which responsible for hydropower projects on the river. Therefore, we can find: ATS Energy Amic for Arieşul Mic river, ATS Energy Amare for Arieşul Mare, ATS Energy Ribiţa for Ribiţa River, a tributary stream of Crişului Alb, ATS Energy Bistra for Valea Bistrei, ATS Energy Buduşel for Buduşel stream (Bistriţa-Năsăud) and ATS Energy Rece for Someşul Rece, as well as ATS Poşaga (Alba) and ATS Ocoliş, part of ATS Energy Invest. “Creating smaller companies corresponding to the divided seven investment projects will allow a more efficient management, more responsive to the needs of every project, market movements and reactions” were the arguments for the project submitted to the Trade Register in Cluj.

How are the environmental institutions taking action?
Several yellow machines and a workers wagon stand guard right before the road suddenly turns – almost 90 degrees to the village Măguri, where the riverbank of Someşul Rece was leveled. A man slowly got his shoes off and laid down like a lizard warming up near some sort of scuttle above an excavators bucket. “I don’t know when the investment begins”, he says irritated his siesta time was interrupted. We are at the shore of a pond surrounded by wooded slopes. It’s cold near the water bank making vapors come out of our words even though it’s sunny. There’s only forest as far as the eye can reach and all you hear is the sound of water falling.
Sources from the Environmental Protection Agency sustain the inclusion of river Someşul Rece in the site Natura 2000, hasn’t been the only obstacle for ATS Energy’s investment. The investors had been warned since 2009 of a dam against floods in the area of Viişoara designed by Apele Române and that the micro-hydropower plant ATS overlaps a Master Plan. The project was nevertheless approved by the County Council in September 2013.

Contacted by the phone, the Chief Commissioner of the Environmental Guard Cluj (EGC), Bogdan Costea said he is unable to offer a more detailed answer in the case of Someşul Rece, unless he has the approval of his superiors in Bucharest, but “at present”, from what he understood from his inspector colleagues, ATS company is “quite all right”. “They have all the necessary permits and they have begun working”, he said.

Subsequently, the Environmental Guard Cluj returned with a response confirming that the area Someşul Rece is indeed protected by Natura 2000. They said they’ve received two complaints against ATS Energy’s project, without actually specifying whether they took any action or if the project is legal or not. According to EGC, there is another micro-hydropower plant in Cluj besides Someşul Rece, which is being built in Vlădeasa Mountains, an area also protected by Natura 2000.

Hidroelectrica Cluj passed all field responsibility to Electrica, especially since, this summer, the state company auctioned all the seven micro-hydropower plants they held in the county. “Two months ago, they sold to a company in Târgu-Mureş, Three Pharm SRL, the plants from Huza 1 and 2, Someşul Mic, Someşul Rece, Călăţele 1 and 2”, declared director Ioan Rogoz. The two Someş Rivers, Rece and Cald, were energetically exploited under the communists who halted the “industrialization” around 1000 meters of altitude, to avoid an impact on the fish breeding area. The authorized private investments from the past few years specifically aim that area, over 1000 meters of altitude, where up to nothing was built.

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We tried to get in touch with an official from ATS Energy Rece, yet up to now it’s been a wild goose chase. A lady (by voice) secretary has eventually given us the email address of Sorin Bădău, who was left to deal with the business in Măguri. We waited a couple of days for a response. The Cluj County Council was also asked to clarify the permits situation. According to this authority, works are as scheduled and the authorization issued in 2010 would still be available. The Council issued three such authorizations for hydro facilities in the county, all by the name of ATS for Dobruşu-Măguri, Măguri Răcătău-Someşul Rece and Mărişel.

(To be continued)

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In the next episode, you will see what the scale of investments is in green energy produced from the exploitation of Mountain Rivers in Northern Transylvania.

Translations by Alexandra Scoarţă (c) iEst.ro

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