Hydro-pump storage facility in the Tyrolean Alps – the Kaunertal Extension Project

Source: http://www.lebenswertes-kaunertal.org/

The project is located in the Kaunertal valley, one of a series of parallel valleys opening to the north from the major massifs in the Austrian Alps. There is already a huge storage existing in this sensitive ecosystem – a reservoir of 139 Mio.m3 active storage capacity and size 2.6 km2. The existing water storage will be extended by an additional upper reservoir (with a dam 120 m high and 450 m wide, built in Platzer Valley) which is meant to function as electricity storage and a new down-stream power station shall be built which is meant to increase the production capacity (=sole electricity production).

The extension of the Kaunertal Hydro Pump Storage falls under heavy criticism by the civil society and environmental NGOs. The planned project would damage both the Venter and the Gurgler rivers – which are river sanctuaries nominated by the Ministry of Environment. Additionally the project would compromise a Natura 2000 site (the “Ötztal Alps”) by the construction of 25 km of tunnels to divert rivers from their natural channel. In the project area, the completely undeveloped mountain valley of “Platzertal”, an important wildlife sanctuary and refuge zone for alpine species would be completely destroyed. The benefits of the project are at the very least doubtful. One part of it, namely the capacity increase for power production, does not even qualify as PCI under the TEN-E Regulation. Further, according to our information the water management rights for this particular project have already been awarded to a different hydro plant operator. An estimated cost of 1,2 billion Euros makes this project one of the largest and most expensive power plant projects currently developed in Europe, however its economic competitiveness remains uncertain. Lastly, no additional production capacities are needed and the necessity of additional storage is highly controversial. Effective public consultation and cooperation with citizens, NGOs and affected groups was de facto non-existent. The project applicant mainly used one-way communication via their website and media. Public opposition is strong and covers environmental NGOs, the civil society and even the municipality of Sölden.

In a J&E Case Analysis 3 projects forming part of the current Unionlist of Projects of Common Interest (PCI) in the area of energy infrastructure where analysed according to their compliance with the TEN-E Regulation and current transparency and public participation standards. The Kaunertal Extension Project was one of them. The entire study is electronically available under: LINK

J&E Position and Recommendations

J&E recognizes the importance of developing and interconnecting energy grids in order to ensure successful implementation of the European energy policy. However, based on the current case studies, we might conclude that:

  • The regional groups in charge of drafting the initial PCI lists have failed to consult with members of the public, including publicly known opponents (even local authorities) to certain projects, when they put together the first PCI list;

  • On the EU level public participation did not compensate for the mistakes made by regional groups. Partly this may be attributed to the fact that national stakeholders did not – for whatever reason - participate at this stage;

  • Public participation in drafting the PCI list is crucial. The lack thereof can lead (and has led) to unjustified preferential treatment and allocation of public funds to harmful projects;

In order to avoid these problems in the future, J&E recommends to:

  • Ensure effective public participation on regional group level; the European Commission as the final decision-maker should take the initiative if regional groups fail to do so;

  • Provide members of the public with meaningful opportunities to participate in consultations on regional as well as on EU level, before the adoption of the final list. We urge the European Commission to pay attention to providing appropriate time-frames as well as giving proper consideration to submitted comments;

  • Include only projects that fulfil necessary criteria without reasonable doubt into the Union-wide PCI list.

J&E has communicated the above recommendations to relevant decision-makers, especially to the DG Energy. Their attitude has been forthcoming and the lay out of the second PCI designation process, which started in September2014 and will be concluded in autumn 2015 provides space for involvement of stakeholders other than project promoters, particularly NGOs. It is too early in the process to assess, whether the changes will allow for a real and effective participation, or have been mere formalities. J&E follows the process and participates in drafting the second EU-wide PCI list.

Justice & Environment, 17th November 2014