Bosnian Serbs, Serbia Launch Construction Of Controversial Hydropower Plant

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – The predominantly Serbian unit of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska and neighboring Serbia have started building a hydropower plant on the Drina, despite opposition from environmental organizations and the Bosnian central government.

The Prime Ministers of the Republika Srpska and Serbia, Radovan Viskovic and Ana Brnabic, on May 17th laid the foundation Stone for the construction of the at least 93 megawatt (MW) dam and the Buk Bijela plant near the eastern Bosnian city of Foca.

Completion of the project is expected to take four years and cost 200 million euros. It is the first phase of a larger joint project that would include the construction of two more hydropower plants on the upper section of the Drina in Bosnia.

With a dam length of almost 200 meters, Buk Bijela will be the largest and most important of the three planned power plants.

“We are proud that we are building it with Serbia … it means life, connection, survival and prosperity,” Viskovic told reporters.

The Bosnian War ended in 1995 with a US-brokered peace agreement that divided Bosnia into two entities – the Muslim and Croat federations and the Republika Srpska – held together by common central institutions.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic warned Serbia that its role in the Buk Bijela project, which was not approved by Bosnia’s central authorities, could damage bilateral relations.

“The Serbian authorities need to know that by joining the Buk Bijela project they are not only risking economic damage, but also not contributing to good neighborly relations,” Turkovic tweeted.

Environmentalists from Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, all of whom border the Drina, have also spoken out against the project, stating that it would damage the environment.

Brnabic defended the project on the grounds that it would generate electricity from renewable resources and that thermal power plants would have to be replaced.

“Everything has an impact on the environment and I think care should be taken to minimize that impact,” she said.

In December 2020, members of the Bosnian parliament initiated proceedings before the Constitutional Court against the decision of the Republika Srpska to grant a concession for the construction of the three hydropower plants. Decisions about state property such as rivers at international borders can only be made at the state level.

A case about the Buk Bijela dam is also pending with the Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention, as Bosnia has not consulted Montenegro on the environmental impact of the installations.

According to Reuters, Bosnia’s power generation capacity consists of 2,083 MW from larger hydropower plants and 2,065 MW from coal-fired plants. Small hydropower plants, wind, solar and biomass account for a further 112.15 MW.

With reports from Reuters and Balkan Insight