Nenskra hydropower plant, Georgia
The Nenskra dam is the most advanced of Georgia’s massive plans for hydropower installations in the Upper Svaneti region. It will deprive the local community, ethnic Svans, of lands and livelihoods, but potential negative impacts have not been properly assessed.
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Key factsCost: USD 1 billion (doubled since initial estimates)
Size: 280 MW power plant, 125 m high dam and a storage reservoir
75% of the finance is planned to come from public sources:
- ADB considers awarding the project USD 314 million
- EBRD has approved a USD 214 million loan together with an additional 5% equity share (USD 15 million)
- EIB has approved USD 150 million loan
- KDB (Korean Development Bank) considers a USD 86 million loan.
- AIIB considers USD 100 million.
Contract type: Public-private partnership: BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer)
Contractor: Unknown (Salini Impregilo started preparatory works in September 2015 but abandoned the project in 2018)
Customer: Like many other newly built hydropower plants in Georgia, Nenskra is intended to produce winter season electricity for the domestic market and export the rest to energy-hungry Turkey.
The Nenskra project foresees damming the Nenskra river 10 kilometers upstream from the village of Chuberi. To increase the reservoir’s volume, a 14 km long tunnel will divert water from the Nakra river on the other side of the mountain close to the village of Nakra.
- 34 new hydropower plants are planned in Upper Svanetia, an area roughly half the size of Cyprus. more >>
- The Nenskra reservoir will deprive locals of the pastures and forests they use to earn their income. more >>
- The project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment did not properly assess socio-economic impacts on local communities nor the geological hazards. more >>
Hydro congestion in Svaneti
In the last decade, Georgia has rushed to exploit its hydropower resources to become a regional energy player. But weak laws and lack of strategy have made the sector a breeding ground for environmental damage, social problems and political cronyism.
The Upper Svaneti region in north-western Georgia provides a microcosm of these broader trends.
The impact of such intensive hydropower plant constructions on the rivers and biodiversity in Upper Svaneti has not been assessed.
Of all the projects, Nenskra is the most advanced.
Hydropower development in Georgia – Projects, risks, legal context
Local population and land use issues
300 families live in Chuberi and 80 families in the village of Nakra. The majority are Svan, an ethnic subgroup of Georgia’s Caucasus mountains with their own language, laws and traditions.
For generations, they have lived in isolation and self-dependence in Upper Svaneti. Their livelihoods depend on forestry, grazing and subsistence agriculture.
The reservoir will flood communal lands and would reduce families incomes, contributing to poverty and marginalisation, especially for women who are less likely to receive job opportunities during the construction.
At least two families live in fear of being resettled.
Even though the use of land is a highly contested issue, the agreement over the project, which may contain relevant information, has not been made public.
A photo story from Chuberi
Parallels to the Khudoni dam downstream
The people of Chuberi know the experience of the Svan communities living downstream in Khaishi where the 702 MW Khudoni dam is planned to be built.
The Georgian state sold their ancestral lands for next to nothing to the Khudoni dam promoter. The lands and the dam remains a subject of fierce protests to date.
Khudoni hydropower plant, Georgia – Project background, images, more
Poor impact assessment and lack of participation
From the onset, the project has been poorly communicated to the affected communities who have few opportunities to be heard. People’s knowledge about the dam is scarce and the information provided by the developers focuses on benefits while neglecting negative impacts.
A review (pdf) of the Nenskra Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) prepared by a German consultant indicates that the ESIA report fails to sufficiently define the area of influence, suggest project alternatives, assess the impacts on the local communities and the geological hazards, and evaluate the costs and benefits of the project for the Georgian society.
The Georgian Ministry of Environment approved the project even though the review questioned the project from a nature conservation perspective.
Briefing on the Nenskra hydropower plant (pdf)
Briefing | February 2, 2016
Comments on the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Nenskra hydropower plant (pdf)
Comments | September 30, 2015
Preliminary comments on the Nenskra Environmental Impact Assessment with a particular focus on the consultation process (pdf)
Comments | June 25, 2015
[From a] nature preservation point of view, not all of these larger [rivers] like Enguri and smaller rivers like Nenskra and Nakra should be used for hydropower generation.
Prof. Dr. Frank Schrader, International Consultant on Hydropower, in his review of the Nenskra ESIA
Nenskra is one of several dams planned in the Enguri river basin, upstream of the state-owned 1300 MW Enguri hydropower plant. The water accumulation at Nenskra will inevitably reduce water levels downstream, and lessen the economic utility of the Enguri dam and the planned Khudoni dam.
Together with the planned Nenskra and Khudoni dams, the state-operated Enguri hydropower plant (pictured above) is the third water storage facility in the Enguri watershed. All combined would put cumulative burden on the river’s ecosystems and the local Svan population.
More importantly, the Georgian government has not tried to assess the cumulative impacts of all the planned hydro installations on the Enguri watershed and the Upper Svaneti region.
Besides the dams and derivation tunnels, the necessary constructions include bypass and access roads, high voltage transmission lines and substations. These may lead to substantial increase in landslides and thus sedimentation in the already exposed Enguri dam.
Seismic risks and land slides
Svanetia is a geologically sensitive mountainous area prone to landslides and mudflows. The situation is critical in the area of the planned Nenskra reservoir and around the village of Nakra.
Nakra has a history of mudflows that washed out the local cemetery and agricultural fields. Locals who have for long called for a protection system fear that the planned works on the Nakra river could cause flooding of their village.
A mudflow on the Lekvederi river damaged one of the two Svan hamlets to be affected by the Nenskra dam.