New initiative to support sustainable hydropower in the Western Balkans

Press release, 13.01.2021

A new initiative funded by SECO launched this week to boost sustainable hydropower development complying with international standards in 6 Western Balkan countries

View of hydropower plant over lake Koman, North Albania
View of hydropower plant over lake Koman, North Albania. © Korporata Energjetike Shqiptare KESH

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) announced a new phase of support to authorities, investors and hydropower corporations to implement international good practices and standards in hydropower development, in cooperation with the Albanian Power Corporation (KESH), with support from the Swiss government’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Patrik Meier, Deputy Head of Mission at the Swiss Embassy in Albania, stated: “All hydropower plants affect water resources and have an impact on the environment and livelihoods of affected communities. Hydropower sustainability is more relevant than ever to address climate change and economic development. I am happy that this new initiative will contribute to increase the sustainability of hydropower projects while complying with international standards.”

Across the mountainous Western Balkans region, demand is growing for the reliable, pollution-free renewable energy that hydropower can provide. Yet local communities can be divided over the merits of hydropower schemes, with campaigners often seeking to bring a halt to new projects.

For national licencing authorities in this part of Europe, the challenge is to assess which hydropower schemes are sustainable – and which may carry too high a cost for local communities and the environment.

Starting in early 2021, the three-year initiative will work with project developers, alongside regulators, investors and civil society organisations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Alain Kilajian, Senior Sustainability Specialist at IHA, commented: “One of the main outcomes of this programme of support will be to ensure local stakeholders from the Western Balkans are better equipped with the necessary tools to understand and assess the sustainability performance of hydropower projects in line with internationally recognised guidelines.”

Reaching key decision-makers as well as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the training programme will strengthen institutional capacity and widen awareness about the good practice requirements expected of all hydropower projects and provide a common language to discuss important sustainability concerns in the region.

The aim is to ensure hydropower projects comply with the Hydropower Sustainability Tools, a set of guidelines and assessment tools developed by governments, industry and social and environmental NGOs. These tools are aligned with lending criteria used by internationaL financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Finance Corporation.

Commenting on the initiative, Benet Beci, Executive Director of KESH, stated: “In the name of the Albanian Power Corporation, I feel honoured for being part of this programme, as the largest electricity producer in the country and in the region. Our future challenges concern increasing the energy production and ensuring electricity independence, while at the same time, ensuring a positive environmental and social presence in the communities living close to hydropower plants, as well as promoting sustainable social, economic and environmental development. Therefore, we are committed to adopt the best practices and standards of sustainable hydropower.”

The training programme will examine all aspects of project development, including siting and design, community consultation, biodiversity and environmental risk management. With a combination of face-to-face workshops, e-learning and webinars, in-country and remote support, participants will become proficient in using the Hydropower Sustainability Tools and will participate in an assessment of a hydropower project in Albania.