Angara River Facing Big Environmental Problems

Angara River Facing Big Environmental Problems

Photo: http://ru.wikipedia.org

En+ Group announced plans to build two more hydroelectric power plants in the Krasnoyarsk territory. These are not completely new projects as they have existed on paper for a long time. However, this fact does not calm down residents, who see firsthand what the Boguchany hydro-electric power station did to the river.

Last week, Mikhail Khardikov, Head of En+ Group's energy business, told journalists about the ambitious plans to build four new hydropower plants in Russia. Two of them are on the Angara river in the north of the Krasnoyarsk territory. These are the Nizhneboguchanskaya and Motygino hydroelectric power plants. The first one has a capacity of 660 MW. It is expected to be built by 2030. Its main industrial purpose is to meet the increasing demands of the Boguchany and Taishet aluminum smelters, the latter of which RUSAL belonging to Oleg Deripaska plans to launch by the end of this year. The Motygino hydro-electric power plant can reach a capacity of 1 GW and work for some promising “green hydrogen” production facility.

The Nizhneboguchanskaya hydroelectric power station is likely to be built just above the village of Boguchany. Thus, its reservoir will back up the Boguchany plant located 150 km upstream. The Motygino hydroelectric power plant is situated, respectively, near the village of Motygino more than 200 km downstream from Boguchany. It means that the entire middle part of the Angara River which has been almost virgin so far will be completely changed forever.

“It does not matter whether it will be our own or borrowed funds. We will go ahead with the projects only if we understand that they pay back,” Khardikov said.

A cascade of hydroelectric power plants on this section of the river was first discussed back in the 1990s. Eurosibenergo, the second-largest asset of the En+ Group after RUSAL unveiled the project in 2014. The facility is to be launched in 2022, but later on, energy officials became very quiet. The Motygino plant project was promoted by RusHydro, which had commissioned the Boguchany hydroelectric power plant. However, no fixed deadlines were announced even then.

Obviously, if the energy companies start implementing these plans, they will face fierce opposition from the public and environmentalists. The construction of the Boguchany hydroelectric power plant also stirred up debates back then. However, it was still an unfinished Soviet-era project; the dam had already been erected, so all that was left to do was to try to mitigate the consequences of flooding. In the case of the Motygino plant, the construction might be cancelled for environmental reasons, given the impact of the Boguchany hydro-electric power plant which obviously works for the interests of big business. In fact, the Boguchany project was resumed only after Oleg Deripaska made the final decision to build a new aluminum plant there. They said that the hydropower plant would generate power for a host of projects to develop natural resources of the lower reaches of the Angara river. However, many of these projects were never implemented.

The citizens got nothing but problems after the hydropower plant’s construction was finished. Perhaps, only the town of Kodinsk in the middle of the endless taiga became an exception as the launch of the plant saved it from a slow process of depopulation. Settlements with a total population of about 5,000 people founded themselves in a flooded area. Many people did not want to leave their well-built houses where their parents and grandparents had lived and give up the forests where they had gone hunting and many fishing places. Unique archeological monuments, which the Angara banks are rich with, went underwater. Algal bloom occurred in the river which became shallow for kilometers downstream. Valuable species of fish such as sturgeon and sterlet are on the verge of extinction. It was widely reported that the preparation of the reservoir bed had been done very poorly. Scrap metal, unburned houses, burial grounds, and forests went underwater to rot away for many years. Of course, the population of the territory are not offered lower electricity rates. The Krasnoyarsk Hydroelectric Power Plant does not provide discounts either.

Last year, Siberian Federal University published a collection of articles on this dark side of hydropower. Scientists say that logging and forest clearing were never carried out properly at Siberian reservoirs. For example, the planned volume of timber flooding in Siberian hydropower plants’ reservoir beds was not to exceed 11 million cubic meters. In reality, however, three times more was left on the bottom. Currently, about 5 million cubic meters of decomposing wood float in these man-made seas.

Many wonder in whose interests hydroelectric power plants are ultimately built. Is it really for the solution of global government problems? Or is it all about the lobbying abilities of this or that business group?

“We have to admit that this is the most convenient time to make irreparable environmental mistakes. Civil society is limited by all kinds of prohibitions and restrictions. Independent public environmental organizations are in disfavor. Residents’ opinion is largely ignored. There is time and opportunity to build dams on Siberian rivers for the up-to-the-minute “climate agenda.” It will take a long time to fix everything,” Aleksandr Kolotov, coordinator of the Rivers Without Borders coalition, told wek.ru.

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