Energy independence depends on Khudoni?
23 January, 2014
Energy independence depends on Khudoni?
On 16 January, in a press conference Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Gharibashvili insisted that the Khudoni Hydro Electro Power Station might perform a vital role for Georgia’s energy independence, and that the investor should do its best to persuade Svaneti locals of its benefits. Meanwhile, Minister of Energy Kakhi Kaladze has said energy independence equals state independence.
Before winning the political power, the coalition Georgian Dream promised that it was against gigantic HPPs but once on the top it has
simply continued the policy of its predecessor on the grounds that Georgia has the potential to produce energy and that there is a high demand for it which will only grow in the future.
Ministry of Energy is also engaged in the building of small and middle-sized HPPs in various parts of the country. And it has just announced that a new Thermo Electric Power Station will be constructed in Gardabani, to be opened in 2015. Kaladze even speaks of test projects using wind energy. However, the ruling administration has determined that Khudoni plays the major role.
The Khudoni project includes the construction of a dam, a reservoir and a 500 kV power transmission line. The designed capacity of the project is 700 MW, which means 1.4 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) annually. According to preliminary estimates, the construction of the HPP would increase the country’s electricity generation by 20%.
The construction started in 1986. In 1989 construction was suspended because of environmental and seismic risks identified by various groups. The issue of seismic risk first arose after the earthquake in Armenia in 1988.
The company that has been planning to construct the Khudoni HPP since 2011 is Trans Electrica, with a total investment currently standing at 1.2 billion USD.
To some, the debate over HPPs since Georgian Dream’s position shift may seem more emotional than reasonable. Svaneti locals have even made an oath that they will not tolerate the construction. Environmentalists have spoken out often.
Some fear dangers posed by dams during an earthquake or other natural calamity. But preliminary studies funded by the World Bank in 2009 showed that the effect on the environment as a result of Khudoni would be minimal due to the dam’s location, and that seismic risks can be minimized by modern engineering technology.
But a joint statement made by some fifty NGOs charges that “there is no strategic document or other objective circumstances (unknown to the public) proving the state significance of the Khudoni HPP project,” and that the country has neither energy development nor economic development strategies which would substantiate the state interest in or strategic importance of the project.
Analyst Geno Meskhia believes that the project will result in more negatives than positives: “Nearly 530 hectares will be flooded in Svaneti, including pastures, forests, historical buildings and the church. Climate will be changed not only in the 5 km area, but in all of Svaneti.” 
But a representative of Trans Electrica, Nino Asatiani, asserts that problems related to flooding are exaggerated. She assures that no one intends to submerge graves and churches or destroy the area’s cultural heritage - “Moreover, the investor intends to build a new village in Svaneti and to relocate the graves, churches and cultural monuments there. Trans Electrica plans to cover compensation to the local population by following the World Bank’s standard.”
Co-chair of the Green Movement, Nino Chkhobadze, told Georgian Journal that systemic changes in the energy system are required. Her conviction is that first of all the country should have an economic strategy, then decide what - and how much - energy it needs, and that the administration should not only think about electro-energy, when it can use solar and wind, or simply rehabilitate already existing power stations and power lines. 
Geologist Davit Arevadze, however, argues that the country should use its energy power and the experience of foreign states in this regard. He mentioned Russia and Azerbaijan. “In case of some kind of problem, we would be in a very hard situation,” he said, and noted that there are HPPs on almost all the rivers in Austria and Switzerland, yet they “have excellent economies and do not think about ecology less than us.”
A member of the Energy Academy, Paata Tsintsadze, says that Khudoni’s opponents do not know much about the power station. He went on, “On the one hand, the HPP is essential for Georgia’s energy independence; on the other hand, certain parts of the construction are not concluded, and not conserved as well. The unfinished construction creates more threats to the environment than will the finished HPP. The conservation requires 200 million GEL, which should be allocated from the budget. However, in that case the budget will get no profit. Thus the HPP should be concluded.”
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