Court temporarily stays issuing of construction permit for Mokrice project

Ljubljana – The Administrative Court has temporarily stayed the issuing of construction permit for the Mokrice hydro plant on the Sava river, the NGO Slovenian Native Fish Association (DPRS) said on Tuesday. The power producer HESS, which is to operate the plant, told the STA the procedure could continue as only the issuing of the permit had been suspended.

According to the DPRS, the court decided last Tuesday that the construction permit for the Mokrice project cannot be issued until its decision on whether the public interest of producing energy from renewable sources prevails over the public interest of nature conservation becomes final.

“The government can appeal the decision, which our association welcomes,” said the DPRS, which contested the governments’s decision over the dominance of public interest over nature conservation at the court.

It said that the court had thus confirmed its arguments about the irreparable damage that the construction of the Mokrice plant would cause in a protected natural environment, especially to certain protected animal species and habitats in the specially protected areas of Natura 2000.

The DPRS had argued that numerous violations of regulations had occurred in relation to the project, including that the Environment Ministry conducted a procedure regarding the dominance of the public interest over nature conservation at the same time as the Environment Agency conducted a procedure for an environmental permit, which ran contrary to the EU law.

The NGO said it had filed the lawsuit to protect nature and habitats in and along the Sava and that it expected a favourable ruling.

“Investment appetites of energy and construction lobbies must under no circumstances dictate permanent and irreparable destructive interventions into our joint legacy,” the NGO wrote.

It again pointed to the fact that Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak had worked at the HESS group just before becoming minister and had been personally in charge of the Mokrice project.

The HESS told the STA it too was happy with the court’s decision because it meant the procedure could continue without disturbance. Only the issuing of the permit is suspended. The HESS said the court dealt with the case as a priority.

The power producer highlighted that the Morkice plant was designed with due care to the environment. “It’s an extremely well designed and impeccable project that will implement several important goals both for the country and the people living between Brežice and the Croatian border.”

According to the HESS, the project is important for Slovenia to implement its goals in the use of renewable energy, where it has been warned by the European Commission that its share of renewables in the gross total energy consumption is not ambitious enough.

The government decided last December the public interest of producing energy from renewable sources prevails over the public interest of nature conservation in the Mokrice case.

However, two environmental NGOs, the DPRS and Rovo – filed lawsuits at the Administrative Court to warn of irregularities in the implementation of the nature conservation act. They called for interim measures that would prevent the HESS or any other investors activities in the area.

The government also determined compensatory measures that the investor Hidroelektrarne na Spodnji Savi (HESS) needs to carry out, including measures that would protect aquatic life in the area.

The construction of a chain of five hydro plants on the lower Sava – Boštanj, Blanca, Krško, Brežice and Mokrice – was to be concluded in 2018 in line with initial plans, but the projects have been delayed because of environmental concerns.

The Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry said it would continue with the procedures but wait for the court’s decision before it issues the permit.

It said it was glad the court had processed the case fast. “This is the first procedure in Slovenia involving the premacy of public good, it’s important to us what the Administrative Court will say about it,” said Vesna Kolar Planinšič of the ministry’s department for strategic review of environmental impacts.