ISTANBUL - With environmentalists increasing pressure on courts to suspend dam construction in ecologically sensitive areas, the environment minister has stepped forward to dismiss reports advising against dams while rousing support for hydroelectricity and the benefits dams provide to local residents
Hoisting the flag for dam building, Turkey’s environment minister has called for support of hydroelectric power plants after investors expressed concern about suspension of hydro projects.
Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu said dams are a necessity for generating energy, irrigating farmland and supporting local industry.
"First of all, they improve the climate. Additionally, we don’t have rivers that run year-round like in Europe. We have to build dams," he said, speaking in the Black Sea town of Gümüşhane on Sunday, reported the Doğan news agency.
Eroğlu said when the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power, Turkey utilized only one-fifth of its hydroelectric potential. "Since then, we have increased that to one-third. Hydroelectricity production has increased from 26 billion kilowatt hours a year to nearly 50 billion kilowatt hours. Turkey needs 130 billion kilowatt hours of energy a year," he said.
He said Turkey was paying less for natural gas by creating more hydroelectric power. "It is very important because it is clean and generates employment," said Eroğlu.
Eroğlu said all projects that proposed building a dam on protected lands or in national parks were examined very carefully.
"When there is a plan to build a hydroelectric plant in a national park, all the necessary precautions are made to prevent it causing environmental harm. Environmental effect reports are prepared and all relevant organizations are involved. Only after around 18 to 20 associations present their reports saying the dam will not harm the environment and suggest measures that need to be taken, does construction begin," he said.
He said after all this work, some were objecting to the project and argued that it was illegal.
"It is wrong to describe dam plans as illegal and harmful based on false reports. I see some ulterior motives behind it. We think it may be a plan by natural gas sellers. What will we do if we are wholly dependent on natural gas?"
False reports prepared by people who do or do not know what they are talking about are hindering their efforts, he said.
The Environment Ministry did not permit the building of dams in important protected areas, Eroğlu said. "We are doing everything according to legal procedures. The Natural Parks Directorate doesn’t allow plans to proceed if there are problems," he said.
Eroğlu also said the construction of the Sadak Dam in the Kelki region of Gümüşhane province would start as soon as possible. "It is part of the 2009 investment plan of the State Waterworks. We allocated 5 billion Turkish Liras for the project," said Eroğlu.
Investors at minister’s door
Eroğlu’s comments came the same day as daily Radikal reported that investors were seeking help from the minister because they are worried about courts possibly suspending construction of dams in protected zones near the Black Sea.
Radikal reported that after a court in the Black Sea coastal town of Rize suspended the building of hydroelectric plants in some protected zones, investors in a 6 million kilowatt power plant in the same region had approached Eroğlu.
According to the daily, the investors said environmentalists had infiltrated the Nature and Cultural Assets Protection Board. They said only the lands where these projects were proposed were being transformed into first-degree protected lands. In response, the ministry decided to propose a new law that would allow the building of renewable energy investments in protected areas. Radikal said among the investors were Karadeniz Electric Production and Sanko Holding, known to have close links with the government.
The Environment Ministry, fearing the Rize court’s decision could have serious effects on plans to increase electricity production, is trying to address the matter.
The head of the Hydroelectric Industry Businessmen Association, or HESİAD, Fatrettin Arman, accused environmentalist organizations of inciting the locals.
"These environmentalist organizations totally ignore the project and try to ensure the project’s land is declared a protected zone. The Nature and Cultural Assets Protection Board is being influenced," he said.
The board decisions were made to please the locals, he said. "When one looks at where the protected zone is, one realizes it only includes where the plant was going to be built. One sees whole neighborhoods nearby that have been excluded. If a region is declared protected, the whole region must be included," said Arman.
HESİAD submitted a report to the ministry, arguing that if certain measures were not taken, the whole region’s hydroelectric potential would not be tapped.
Münir Yazıcı, the lawyer for the Senoz River Association, which was formed to protect the Senoz River where one of the plants was to be built, said if any legal measures were taken to restart the project, they would go to the United Nations. Yazıcı said they would argue that Turkey was violating the Kyoto Protocol, which the Turkish Parliament approved just two weeks ago. Yazıcı said if these projects were allowed to start, the whole region would become a desert. "Plants cannot be built on protected land. There are still some areas that have not been declared protected. We have submitted the necessary applications," he said.