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Albania's commitment in hydropower lays the foundation for future growth. But when as much as 10 per cent of the land area is affected by the development, it also affects many people.

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The Banja power plant was officially opened on 23 September, 2016. See this page for news story: "First hydropower plant in Albania opened"

Three years after construction started in 2013, the Banja hydropower plant in southeast Albania is now completed.

The project in the Devoll Valley is part of a development project with two power plants, Banja and Moglicë, with a total output of 256 MW.

The production of around 700 GWh represents a 17-percent increase in the country's total energy production.

If the catchment areas are included, as much as 10 per cent of Albania's land areas are located within the project area in the Devoll Valley. One of the biggest challenges has been to gain access to the land that was needed, because many people are affected by the development to some degree.

Alban Avdiu

Lost livelihoods

When Alban Avdiu took on the job of liaising on behalf of the locals who would be affected by the hydropower projects in the Devoll Valley, he did not know that his father Sabri would become one of those affected.

"The biggest challenge for the local population has been to find ways of replacing the loss of arable land, and consequently, of the livelihoods that depended on it," says Alban Avdiu.

He has worked in the Devoll project as a community liaison since the planning work began in 2010, and is part of the Environmental and Social Management team that is implementing the programme that offers local inhabitants additional support for any losses incurred in connection with the building of the hydropower plant.

"There are plots available in the vicinity, and we have helped those who lost their houses to find land and to build replacement houses," he says.

"They have also received livelihood support. The aim is to make sure that their standard of living is the same as or better than the income and quality of life they had before the project began."

Initially, Avdiu's family was hardly affected by the project, but then it was decided to build a road on the south side of the Devoll Valley. The new road ran straight across the farm belonging to his father, Sabri Avdiu, who lost more than 3,000 square metres of land. Alban's own family was among those directly affected by Statkraft's project.

Avdiu father and son

Win-win

It was a difficult time for the younger Avdiu. His father lost many of his fruit trees, and he aligned with others who opposed the development.

"There was a period when it was awkward at family gatherings, to put it like that," he confides.

Gradually, however, good support schemes were set up, and his father received help to improve his current livelihood.

The programme helped Avdiu Sr. to better utilise the remaining plot of land so that it now gives the same – or better – yield as before. The solution was to start growing grapes. Avdiu was allocated seedlings, an irrigation system and basic agricultural machinery, which are planned to result in better profits and make work on the farm easier. With his new grapevines and his previous stock of fruit trees and other plants, he and his family should make a normal living from the farm.

What is more, both he and his neighbours saw the benefit of having a permanent road on their side of the reservoir, something they did not have before.

"It has created brand new possibilities for communicating with the outside world, so all in all it has been a win–win situation," says his son.

A new way of life

Village

Fifteen households were relocated and given new housing as a result of the development of the Banja hydropower plant. The standard of this housing is higher than that of their previous homes.

School Replacement roads, a new school (pictured) and potable water supply systems have also been built in connection with the new development.

New possibilities

The Devoll project is a BOOT project, which means that Statkraft builds, owns, operates and transfers the project during the licence period. The Albanian state expropriates land from private landowners according to fixed rates, and makes the land areas needed available to the developer. These rates are not high, and for many they are not enough to live on after they lose the basis for their livelihood.

Statkraft therefore initiated a voluntary project whereby people are provided in kind support, including production equipment, plants, livestock and machinery. This Livelihood Support and Development Programme is based on international standards where monetary compensation is not permitted. Instead, inhabitants are given help to improve their current livelihoods. This is intended to support them for their loss of income and provide them with new earning possibilities.

Some of those who lost their houses have also been given replacement housing. A total of 21 houses identified as being necessary to be demolished in the Banja project were determined to be eligible for replacement. Fifteen of these cases were resolved by replacement housing schemes, but in one village, Drize, reaching an agreement proved difficult at first. The inhabitants waived their right to this benefit offered by the project and ended up in trouble when the water rose up to their doorsteps. At the last minute, the authorities managed to reach an agreement with the families in Drize, too.

"The situation in Drize was an exception," says Tom Kristian Larsen, country manager in Albania. "The people in the Devoll Valley have generally been extremely positive to the development. Most of them see that it leads to more jobs, better and new roads that improve access to the rest of country, better waste management and a higher living standard to the area."

Statkraft's Devoll projects in Albania

> POWER PLANTS: Banja, Moglicë

> OUTPUT: 256 MW

> PRODUCTION: 700 GWh

> BANJA PLANT MANAGER: Hans Bolme

> CONSTRUCTION PERIOD: Banja was completed in September 2016, while Moglicë will open in 2019.

> HSE AWARD: The Banja Replacement Roads Project received the Statkraft CEO's HSE award for 2016.

> Albania's primary energy source is hydropower, but currently it imports around 30 per cent

> Once the Devoll projects are completed, Albania's energy production will increase by 17 per cent.

Replacement house

For an Albanian family, getting a new house marks a milestone in life, one that involves many rituals. This also applied for the 15 families who were provided with brand new houses in connection with the development project. The houses were built in accordance with modern Albanian building standards, and with energy-efficient measures to reduce energy consumption.

For most of these families, the new houses represent a marked increase in their housing and living standards. Selim Buzdra, one of the inhabitants of the village Qerrett, was visibly moved during the handover ceremony in spring 2016. "I never imagined ever living in such a nice house. It has two floors and a spacious terrace that overlooks the Devoll Valley; it's completely different to what we had before."

The importance of the Devoll project is not only local; it is extremely important for the whole of Albania. As well as increasing energy production from renewable sources, providing new jobs and modern infrastructure, and laying the foundation for future growth, it is also a reference project in terms of HSE and environmental standards.

More demolition work

Parallel with, though somewhat behind the Banja development, work on the Moglicë project has been going on. Moglicë is situated deeper inside the Devoll Valley, is more remote, and has fewer inhabitants. Eleven houses are currently considered as eligible for replacement by the project, and a total of 37 families qualify to benefit from the livelihood support and development programme.

The project's Environmental and Social Management team is already well under way with the project in Moglicë – where at least this time, Alban's family will not be affected.

Text: Tone K. Dahle
Photos: Eduard Pagria
The article has also been published in Statkraft's magazine People & Power no. 3/2016.

The building of the Banja Power plant, 65 kilometres southeast of the capital Tirana, has given the region a boost in terms of infrastructure. Among other things, it has led to the building of 14 new bridges.