BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia-Herzegovina’s predominantly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, and neighboring Serbia have launched the construction of a hydropower plant on the Drina River despite opposition from environmental organizations and Bosnia’s central government.
The prime ministers of Republika Srpska and Serbia, Radovan Viskovic and Ana Brnabic, on May 17 laid the foundation stone for the construction of the at least 93-megawatt (MW) Buk Bijela dam and plant, near the eastern Bosnian town of Foca.
The project is expected to take four years to complete and cost 200 million euros ($243 million). It is the first phase of a larger joint project that would include building two more hydropower plants on the upper stretch of the Drina in Bosnia.
Buk Bijela will be the largest and most important of the three planned power plants, with a dam length of nearly 200 meters.
“We are proud that we are building it with Serbia…it means life, connection, survival, and prosperity,” Viskovic told reporters.
The Bosnian War ended in a U.S.-brokered peace agreement in 1995 that divided Bosnia into two entities — the Muslim and Croat federation and Republika Srpska — held together by joint central institutions.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic warned Serbia that its role in the Buk Bijela project, which has not been approved by Bosnia’s central authorities, could damage bilateral ties.
“The Serbian authorities must know that, by entering the Buk Bijela project…they risk not only economic damage but also do not contribute to good neighborly relations,” Turkovic tweeted.
Environmentalists from Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro, which all have borders on the Drina, have also opposed the project, saying it would damage the environment.
Brnabic defended the project, saying it would generate electricity using renewable resources and that thermal power plants need replacing.
“Everything has an impact on the environment and I think that care should be taken to keep that impact as small as possible,” she said.
In December 2020, members of Bosnia’s parliament launched a Constitutional Court case against Republika Srpska’s decision to issue a concession for the construction of the three hydropower plants, saying decisions on state property such as rivers on international borders can only be made at the state level.
A case about the Buk Bijela dam is also pending at the Espoo Convention Implementation Committee due to Bosnia’s failure to consult Montenegro about the environmental impact of the plants.
Bosnia’s energy production capacity consists of 2,083 MW from larger hydropower plants and 2,065 MW in coal-fired thermal power plants, according to Reuters. Small hydropower plants, wind, solar, and biomass accounts for a further 112.15 MW.