Power plant under attack

  • 2001-08-16
  • TBT staff
RIGA - A number of local municipal governments, together with the Latvian Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development are speaking out against construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Salaca River in northern Latvia near Estonia. The Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry reports that construction of the proposed plant is against Latvian legislation and EU directives.

"So far, only the municipality of the town of Staicele where the plant is planned to be built supports the project. The ministry and all the neighbors are against,"Ilze Vinkele, a spokeswoman for the ministry, told The Baltic Times.

She said that the plant's investors would like to remain secret. "It's some company, Latipasums Ltd., but who stands behind it we don't know,"she stressed.

Vinkele said that the business plan under the project looks really questionable. "Planned costs of the project are 900,000 lats ($1.43 million), but profits are planned for only 190,000 lats per year. How are they planning to get their investment back if the current double tariffs for electricity produced by small plants is going to be abandoned soon?"she said.

The Staicele municipality, the only authority to grant permission for the plant's construction, by law had to order a report on the environmental impact and submit the project for public discussion.

The project's public discussion opened on Aug. 8, and after seeing a draft report on the plant's environmental impact, the ministry has come out against the project going ahead. However, the final word will be given by the Environmental Impact Office, after the report is completed.

The project's report for public discussion does not mention the fact that a ban has been implemented on constructing any type of dam, or that it would restrict fish migration in the Salaca nature park. The report also excludes information on endangered plants and wildlife living in the Salaca valley, set to be flooded if the dam is built. The Salaca valley has numerous Latvian and internationally acclaimed unique natural values, and compensation for flooding the region would be impossible. A variety of tourism projects would also be cancelled if the Salaca valley is flooded.

Construction of the hydroelectric plant is also against EU directives and the law on species and biosphere, as well as the Berne Convention, and it could be expected that special sanctions would be imposed against countries not following the requirements. The Staicele hydroelectric plant on the River Salaca would also effect Estonia's Salaca basin and fish resources in the Bay of Riga, which means that the issue should be looked into according to broader respective bilateral agreements.

The Salaca River is Latvia's largest salmon spawning river. The Staicele hydroelectric plant would be built on the site of an older dam built at the end of the 19th century by a pulp mill, which was then turned into an hydroelectric plant in 1965, later ruined in 1986. The plant is expected to have three turbines with a total capacity of 833 kilowatts.