Russia will save Baikal from possible death

Russia will save Baikal from possible death

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The largest energy companies in the country will unite to protect the world heritage site

Photo: RIA NOVOSTI/Igor ageyenko

Mongolia has started implementing a project for the construction of private hydroelectric power plants, which can harm the lake. The process started bypassing public hearings in Russia, which the Russian side insisted. According to relevant agencies, the emergence of hydropower is only possible after studying the potential environmental damage that may be caused to the unique lake. Russia in this regard are even ready to consider the question of reducing electricity prices for Mongolia.

The question of revision of tariffs for Mongolia — the decision not only economic, but also political. This follows from the minutes of the recent meeting of the Ministry of energy (“News”). Until mid-November, the energy Ministry suggests decreasing prices, on which electricity is exported from Russia to Mongolia (the country’s authorities have repeatedly stated that pay too much). The Ministry of energy of the Russian Federation creates working group which will include the largest Russian energy company, to develop mechanisms to address this energy issue. This is stated in the document. Thus, the Russian side wants to convince Mongolia to abandon the construction of a private hydropower plants in the Selenge river basin, which, according to forecasts of environmentalists, can destroy the unique lake Baikal.

The Mongolian side, despite the concerns of environmentalists that Baykal may repeat the fate of the Aral sea continues to work on the MINIS, it follows from the minutes of the meeting of the energy Ministry. In this project, the planned construction of hydroelectric power plants, including HPP “Suren” on the Selenga, which flows into the lake and provides up to 80% of water inflow into the lake. The design of these stations, the world Bank planned to allocate MINIS a loan of $25 million, indicating that the support be provided “subject to all opinions”, including Russia, which directly falls into the area of the project.

The design work was to begin just after the August and September public hearings in the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia. In turn, the results of the hearings had to be taken into account in the specifications for the feasibility study (FS), regional environmental assessment (RER) and rating of environmental impact (EIA). Possible damage must be compensated during construction, and if it is too large, the construction of hydroelectric power station and not have to give.

The Russian side insisted that prior to the construction of power plants, public hearings were held in regions of the Baikal region, and the world Bank eventually made an official statement that the implementation of the project starts “taking into account the views of the parties.” The decision to hold the hearings, the officials of Russia and Mongolia adopted after consultation in may this year.

However, the hearing never was held. But in spite of the declared decision to respect and preserve the unique ecosystems of world heritage site, the MINIS, without taking into account Russian interests have already launched a tender for preparation of technical specifications for feasibility study, REO and EIA. Earlier, the Minister of natural resources of Russia Sergey Donskoy said that the world Bank its promises are not kept — not waiting for the hearings, announced tenders for a feasibility study. He sent the WB a letter and demanded an explanation.

Meanwhile, the energy Ministry held a meeting where representatives of Russian ministries and energy companies discussed the situation. The meeting participants considered possible options for action in the case of ignoring Mongolia’s negative opinion on the EIA, which may prepare Russia.

According to the publication, the Ministry of natural resources took control of the HPP project together with the Ministry of foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation “the project is seen not only as economic but also as political” specified in the Protocol of the meeting. The Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has met with the new Minister of foreign Affairs of Mongolia Tendinum Munkh-Argila and noted the need to discuss the project. The Mongolian side agreed to begin the search for mutually acceptable solutions, including the consideration of alternative hydropower options for Mongolia with electricity, told “Izvestia” in the office. To this end, the Ministry of energy of the Russian Federation formed a working group.

The composition of this group included representatives of the largest energy companies: JSC “RusHydro”, JSC “Institute Hydroproject”, JSC “inter RAO — Engineering”, JSC “Eastern energy company”, JSC “rosseti”, JSC “FGC UES”, etc., the energy Ministry together with interested companies will consider the question “about possible mechanisms of reducing the price of electricity imported from Russia to Mongolia”. In addition, the Russian consortium, headed “inter RAO — Engineering” plans to participate in the tender to develop the impact assessment on the environment in hydropower projects.

A source in the Ministry told “Izvestia” that prior to the public hearings, the world Bank can not start the implementation of the project, including the allocation of funds for it. However, the Mongolian side is trying to hold hearings about the impact on the environment in hindsight. This approach does not suit Russia.

Russian environmentalists are sounding the alarm and believe that it is necessary to act quickly, so as not to lose time and initiative. According to “Izvestia”, the international ecological coalition “Rivers without borders” has sent a complaint to the leadership of the WB and got a response that the issue will be considered at the next meeting of the inspection Board of the Bank. Also in the letter (is at the disposal of “Izvestia”) stated that was announced the tender for development of project materials, but only an invitation to participate in it — the tender procedure itself will not start without public hearings in Russia and the final terms of reference for REO and EIA will be prepared only based on the results of the hearings in Russia.

We believe the hearing is critical in order to obtain feedback from local residents and to help them understand the scope and purpose of the proposed research. We got approval from the Russian government to conduct such hearings and is now finishing preparation of materials for hearings, including aggregated reviews, project briefs, presentations, reference materials and their high-quality translation into Russian language, — said environmentalists in the WB.

That contest WB declared by the rules, and told the head of the Buryat regional Association on lake Baikal Sergey Shapkhaev. He noted that the Bank, without waiting for hearings, announced a competition for the next stage — the development of the project, which has yet to be discussed.

— Why do we need to discuss what is already approved? The Mongols want to hold hearings retroactively, which is a formality. This is contrary to the practice of Russian legislation and the world Bank, stressed Chapaev.

After public outrage at the actions of the Mongolian side guide MINIS already made a statement on holding of public hearings in the Region they intend to arrive in Russia for talks with representatives of regional and local authorities at the end of 2016 and to be held 10 consultations. 30 days prior to this, Mongolia needs to publish the required hearing materials. Likely that they could be held in November.

According to environmentalists, such neglect on the part of Mongolia to the Russians jeopardizes the possibility of holding further consultations.

— What’s the point in having them in Russia, if in Mongolia have already been approved and put out to tender the materials that would be discussed? It will not be a hearing, but a farce — an imitation of public participation and trying to outsmart the neighbours. We have six months forward from the foreign officials ‘ responses to our comments and suggestions on the Mongolian projects, but in response received only assurances of the importance of public consultation — shared environmental coordinator international coalition “Rivers without boundaries” Alexander Kolotov.

According to “Izvestia”, Russia plans to discuss the construction of power plants in December 2016 in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) at the meeting of the Russian-Mongolian intergovernmental Commission on trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation, as well as in the negotiations of the Minister of natural resources and ecology of the Russian Federation, co-chair of the Russian-Mongolian IPC Sergey Donskoy with the Mongolian leadership.

“News” has sent an official request to the MFA of Mongolia, but the operational review at the time the numbers could not be obtained.