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Hearing regarding Namakhvani HPP held in parliament

By Khatia Bzhalava
Thursday, March 11
On Tuesday, the Sector Economy and Economic Policy and Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Committee held a joint sitting regarding the controversy around the construction of HPPs in Racha-Lechkhumi. The matter concerns the petition submitted by 10,135 citizens of Georgia to the parliament. The MPs, experts, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and Guardians of the Rioni Gorge heard the report of the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Natia Turnava, and the Minister of Environment, Levan Davitashvili, on Namakhvani HPP.

The Namakhvani HPP Cascade Project entails the construction of two hydroelectric power plants on the Rioni River in Georgia’s Tskaltubo and Tsageri municipalities and is the largest energy project in the history of Georgia’s independence. Locals, concerned with the possible devastating environmental and social impacts of the project, have been protesting the construction of ‘giant’ HPPs for months.

The Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development stated at the sitting that the criticism of Namakhvan HPP includes three main aspects, which are: the anti-HPP campaign - "No to HPPs", xenophobic rhetoric against foreign investors, and criticism generally related to the structure of the project.

According to the minister, all international organizations agree that in the next 10 years, Georgia's energy consumption will increase from the current 12 billion kWh to at least 21-22 billion kWh. According to her, the alternative to building Namkahvani HPP is the construction of 1,000-megawatt gas-fired power plants (instead of hydropower plants), which will require an additional USD 900 million worth of gas imports over 10 years. Turnava stated that by doing so, “we will strengthen our neighboring states with this amount.”

The minister noted that if Namakhvani HPP construction fails to be implemented, the future economic development of the country will largely depend on the will of Georgia’s neighboring countries. “For example, the price of electricity supplied to our population will depend on the economic situation and energy policy of Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan. It also means that in a critical event of an emergency shutdown of our power system, we will not be able to independently supply electricity to consumers for even an hour," Turnava stated.

According to the Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture, an additional geological survey was conducted on the site of the HPP. Davitashvili stated that based on the research report, the dam will be constructed in absolutely dense rocks, which reduces geological risks. According to him, the spread of allegations about the negative impact on the environment is incorrect.

A long discussion was held between the ministers, committee members, energy and environmental experts, representatives of various non-governmental organizations, and representatives of the local population of the Rioni Gorge. The opponents of the HPP project were not satisfied with the results of the committee sitting.

The idea of a large-scale HPP has been opposed by several critical assessments and conclusions made by the local population, the community, and specialists in the field, concerning the legality of the construction as well as its extremely high impact and risks. The locals consider the project “illegal, wrong and anti-state”. Recently, a massive rally was held in Kutaisi, where demonstrators stated that they were not aware of handing the Rioni Gorge, ‘a collective property’, to a foreign investor. The opponents of the large-scale project underline that the construction works were launched without prior sufficient research and thorough consideration of risks, including immediate security risks due to the active seismic processes.