May 23, 2019 / 3:41 PM / a month ago

Montenegro moves to halt small hydro power plants

FILE PHOTO: Environmental activists on bicycles arrive to protest in the dried out riverbed of Cijevna River in Dinosa village, near Tuzi, Montenegro October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bowing to pressure from environmental groups, Montenegro’s government has decided to stop issuing permits for the construction of small hydro power plants and reconsider those awarded so far, economy minister said on Thursday.

The government will also abolish in June the small-scale renewable energy scheme funded through consumers’ energy bills, accounting for between 1% and 5% of monthly energy bills depending on consumption, Dragica Sekulic told a news conference in the capital Podgorica.

Montenegro and its Western Balkan neighbors have seen a series of protests against a boom in dam construction that campaigners say threatens irreparable environmental damage.

Authorities and investors view hydro power as a green alternative to other sources of energy and say it could help the countries hit the renewable energy targets they need to meet to join the European Union.

But activists say that most of around the 80 small hydro power plants in Montenegro are not planned in line with EU conventions. There are currently 13 small hydro plants operating and a few more under construction.

Under plans being considered by governments, a network of nearly 3,000 hydro plants could be built across Western Balkans, with about a third of them in protected areas.

Campaigners say the dams would drain rivers used by local communities for drinking, farming, fishing and tourism, while destroying the habitat of species unique to the region, such as the Danube salmon and the Balkan lynx.

Non-governmental groups Riverwatch and EuroNatur last year published a document showing that three-quarters of the rivers in the Balkans are so ecologically valuable they should be completely off-limits for hydro power development.

Reporting by Maja Zuvela; editing by David Evans

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