Adverse Consequences of Small and Medium-Sized Hydropower Plants

Aragvi hydropower plants

Tens of middle and small-size hydropower plants have been built in Georgia over the last decade.

Since they do not need large dams to store water, they are often considered by some individuals as less harmful for the environment, and the government often uses this argument to allow companies go ahead and build them in a quantity Georgian rivers cannot afford.

Accordingly, the reality shows dire situation for Georgia’s rivers and environment.

Most of the time, medium or small-sized hydropower plants are built on small rivers. As a result they end up taking vast majority of water flow [about 90% of annual average flow] of rivers, especially in winter, when river discharge declines and reaches minimum level.

This empties and destroys river biodiversity and ecosystems, including fish habitat and smaller vertebrates, which despite their size, are as important a part of the ecosystem as larger vertebrates or mammals.

To build a hydropower plant, a company is supposed to avoid and mitigate negative impacts on the environment, on river ecosystems, and is obliged to have a Biodiversity Action Plan to execute it according to the Environmental decision, which is based in the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

In practice, the Biodiversity Action Plans are not followed through duly and do not ensure mitigation of impacts on local ecosystems: biodiversity compensation infrastructure is lousy, and does not support the local biodiversity needs, including fish pathways.

A fish pathway – special infrastructure built to allow fish movement along the river to help them survive after the construction of a hydropower plant, hardly contains any water, is almost dry and there is no condition for their normal survival.

This photo collage depicts the Aragvi hydropower plant infrastructure in its entirety – the first picture shows upstream of the river, the second picture – the place where it joins the plant’s pipes, the third one is a fish pathway and the fourth – the downstream of the river, which is empty of water in a dry season – where the ecosystem is entirely wiped out.

Khadori hydropower plants cascade

There is less than one kilometer between two hydropower plants in Pankisi Gorge on the river Alazani: one is small (2 megawatts) and the other is medium (24 megawatts). The water power is used for electricity generation.

One of the main tributaries of the Kura river in Eastern Georgia, Alazani River flows for about 351 kilometers, and serves as part of the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan, before meeting the Kura River and flowing into Mingəçevir Reservoir in Azerbaijan, which is also used for energy generation.

“Khadori 1” — the 24 megawatts plant — was constructed decades ago. “Khadori 2” — the two megawatts plant — was added to the system 13 years ago.

An ecological conclusion/decision on the second project issued on April 4, 2003 states that the data shared by the company LTD Pheri with the then Ministry of Environment and Natural Protection of Georgia was not accurate and contained major inaccuracies that the company had to correct and address during the operation of the plant.

LTD Pheri also wanted to build a third 5.4 megawatts plant on the Alazani River three years ago, but the locals strongly opposed the Khadori 3project.

This Pankisi Gorge protest took an unusual path as women took a leading role in protests.

The Pankisi Women’s Council stated that one more hydropower plant would put extra pressure and stress on the river and on them: they said it would deprive living creatures of necessary river flow, and the locals of drinking water and water for irrigation and household use. These burdens are historically laid on women’s shoulders and hardly ever shared by men.

The Khadori 3 project was delayed. Police were used to intimidate local people, but the resistance did not wane. On April 21, 2019 the project was halted. It never resumed.

Kazbegi hydropower plant

River Brolistksali is a small water formation in mountainous Kazbegi, Georgia, distributed within the steep slopes in Gorge of Khde. It later joins the bigger Tergi [Terek] river, which afterwards flows to the Caspian Sea.

The Gorge of Khde used to be a nature reserve during Soviet times: any economic or environmental interference was forbidden there, including introducing any infrastructure projects and/or hunting, etc. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Georgia’s independence, water was considered the main natural resource in the country’s possession, which it could utilize and sell. It was each successive government’s aim to utilize it as much as possible at the expense of the environmental damage – impact assessments of such projects have been of very low quality for more than a decade, often also acknowledged by the representatives of the different ministers of environment of Georgia themselves.

Georgia – a young and poor country, in the wake of its economic identity formation, after the collapse of the big social centralised economy of – the Soviet Union, could not afford and should not have prioritized environmental protection over infrastructure or construction projects, nor spent much money on it, many argued.

In 2013, River Brolistskali became a target of the hydropower company LTD Pheri, which had already built other projects in the Khde Gorge and already had some infrastructure in the area.

Little was known about this river itself then: there was no data about its annual maximum, average and minimal hydrological flows.

This fact itself meant that the environmental flow of the river was not known as it is usually calculated based on the  annual maximum, average and minimal flows of a river.

Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well being that depend on these ecosystems.

Eventually LTD “Pheri” acquired a right to build a 5 megawatts hydropower plant on the small river of Brolistksali.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Georgia initially did not “green-light” the project. A negative ecological decision was issued, which meant the project cost-benefit ratio was insufficient to scale up its benefits. The Ministry demanded the company do more field research on species and add new hydrological data.

Despite environmentalists’ strong opposition to the project, a positive environmental ecological decision was later issued, and the company was allowed to build the hydropower plant on the small river.

Like tens of other companies operating in Georgia, LTD Pheri has a guaranteed power purchase agreement.  According to the agreement, the national electric system must buy power from the company at 6.5 cents per kWh from October to March, and 5 cents from April to September.

In January-April 2023, the Kazbegi hydropower plant generated 3 million kWh of electricity, a tiny amount, during a time when Georgia does not need energy as other generators are at peak productivity.

According to the projections, the Kazbegi hydropower plant is supposed to generate 27.2 million kWh annually.

However, In 2022, the plant generated 25.6 million kWh – 1.6 mln kWh less than the annual target.

The information was first published by Cactus Media on their official facebook page as social media posts. The article and social media posts were prepared by Cactus Media in collaboration with Green Alternative to illustrate the negative environmental impact of small and medium-sized hydropower plants.