NewsMontenegro's stance on Buk Bijela hydropower project: Navigating environmental concerns and regional...

Montenegro’s stance on Buk Bijela hydropower project: Navigating environmental concerns and regional collaboration

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The matter of constructing the Buk Bijela hydropower plant was officially concluded by the Montenegrin Ministry of Energy and Mining in 2004, marked by the Parliamentary Declaration on the Protection of the Tara River and a UNESCO report in 2005. These developments dismissed any prospects of building hydropower facilities in the region that could impact the “tear of Europe,” according to the ministry’s response to Vijesti regarding Montenegro’s potential involvement in the project. President of the Republic of Srpska, Milorad Dodik, recently extended an invitation for Montenegro to participate in the project, prompting inquiries about the nation’s stance.

When asked about the possible engagement of Montenegro’s power utility, EPCG, in the project, given a proposed reduction in dam height to avoid encroaching on Montenegro’s territory and impacting the Tara River’s protected area, the Ministry emphasized that this aspect was not addressed in Montenegro’s strategic documents or EPCG’s business plans. The ministry insisted on adhering to valid legislation, which prohibits construction in the designated area, and delegated responsibility for environmental impact assessments to the ecology ministry.

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In response to Dodik’s recent invitation, the Montenegrin Ministry of Energy and Mining asserted that they would not engage in hypothetical scenarios but would consider relevant indicators, documents, and Montenegro’s legislative framework. They emphasized that the existing legislation prohibits construction in the specified area, leaving the ecology ministry responsible for environmental impact assessments.

President Dodik, during a recent meeting with the Parliament Speaker, Andrija Mandić, called on Montenegro to join the Buk Bijela hydropower plant project and cease any opposition. Dodik’s willingness to accommodate Montenegro’s participation was contingent on its cooperation.

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Despite Dodik’s assurances that the project would not affect Montenegro or flood its waters, concerns about the Bileća Lake persisted. Dodik proposed a meeting in Trebinje to resolve these issues, involving energy ministers, power utility directors, and other key stakeholders.

The Montenegrin government, led by Milo Đukanović, initially granted preliminary consent in 2004 to jointly build the Buk Bijela hydropower plant with the Republic of Srpska. However, public protests and the adoption of the Declaration on the Protection of the Tara River in the same year led to a reevaluation of the project.

The subsequent developments saw the Republic of Srpska initiating a new project with a lower dam height and an additional hydropower plant downstream near Foča. Serbia and the Republic of Srpska signed an agreement in 2020 to proceed with the project. A tender for contractors, including three Chinese offers, was launched last summer. However, legal disputes emerged, one at the Constitutional Court of BiH regarding concessions and another at UNESCO, initiated by Montenegro due to potential negative impacts on the Tara River and Durmitor National Park.

EPCG is closely monitoring these disputes, acknowledging the recent resolution of the first dispute between ERS, EBiH, and Serbia. EPCG emphasizes that the environmental impact assessment falls within the jurisdiction of the ecology ministry, and they are awaiting the official decision on the UNESCO dispute.

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