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Nenskra hydropower project, Georgia


The Nenskra hydropower plant is a dam project of 280 MW and considered a the most advanced of Georgia's massive plans for hydropower installations in the Upper Svaneti region. The project is located on the river Nenskra, up stream to the Khudoni dam. On Monday, August 31, 2015, the Partnership Fund of Georgia and South Korea’s K-Water company executed the key project agreements to develop and construct the 280 MW hydropower plant under the BOT scheme (Build-Operate-Transfer). Apart from serving the national demand, the project might also export electricity to Turkey [5]. According to Bankwatch, as has been the practice with other hydropower projects in Georgia, the Nenskra implementation agreement signed in August 2015 is confidential, so many details about land appropriation and tariffs are unknown.

The Nenskra Hydropower Project has a total investment value of $1 billion and is the largest foreign investment in the country since Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union. [2] The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has agreed in May 2015 to provide US$200 million for the project. Nenskra is also being financed by the Asian Development Bank and Export-Import Bank of Korea. The tender for the construction of the plant worth $575 millions was won by Italian industrial group Salini Impregilo. The construction started in mid 2015. The project is planned for completion by 2019, but receive high protests from local inhabitants that claim potential negative impacts have not been properly assessed.

In the last decade, Georgia has rushed to exploit its hydropower resources to become a regional energy player. At the moment 35 hydropower plants are slated for development only in the Upper Svaneti region of Georgia. All of them are located in the Enguri river basin. Most of the plants (25) are located on the territory of the planned Upper Svaneti national park and the Upper Svaneti protected landscape. According to Bankwatch, "the rush to build hydropower plants in Georgia is not backed by any energy strategy and without regard for the combined environmental consequences and socio-economic impacts." [1] The combination of weak environmental legislation and the lack of strategic plans has enabled the Georgian government to rush forward concessions on 64 plants since the adoption of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement in June 2014. 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. Plans for development of 35 new plants are under way in an area roughly the size of Mallorca that is largely covered by a planned national park, hosts UNESCO listed medieval monuments and is inhabited by the traditional community of Svans.  The EBRD has been one of the key catalysts of this hydro boom. Yet the presence of the EBRD and other international financial institutions has not been enough to ensure the development of comprehensive energy strategies, robust project assessments and meaningful public consultations. The potential for social and environmental problems is therefore prevalent.  The Nenskra hydropower plant is yet another project that lacks the proper assessment and has failed to gain acceptance from the local communities. The impact of such intensive hydropower plant constructions on the rivers and biodiversity in Upper Svaneti has not been assessed. Activists opposing the project argue that if built, the dam on the Nenskra river will deprive people of lands and forests that are vital to their livelihood and cause geological hazards which have not been taken into account in the official social and environmental impact assessment. Locals from Chuberi, Khaishi, Nakra, Khevi and other villages that will be affected by the massive construction plans were joined last July 2016 by activists from the Tbilisi-based environmental groups Green Fist and Young Greens. According to an article in Democracy and Freedom Watch Georgia [3], "They demand that the construction project is halted until alternative projects and the consequences have been properly assessed in close cooperation with the local community. A petition was signed, addressed to the main stakeholders in the project and advocacy groups, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the prime minister and public defender of Georgia, and local and international NGOs. The activists gave investors, including the construction company Salini Impregilo, one week to meet their demands, otherwise they will resume their blockade of the road leading to the construction site." The article also reports the words by Father Giorgi Chartolani, a priest from Mestia who is an outspoken advocate for preserving the Svan language and culture: “The destruction of our language, culture, and traditions, which bear the identity of this region and the whole country will be a big blow to the spirituality of the Georgian nation. People involved in the construction project never stood up for Georgia. They are driven by profit and their vision of success,” [3] Due to the high level of contrariety to the dam project, a congress of community leaders was held in the village Khaishi on June 12, resurrecting an age old Svan tradition. The congress, called liqwbääl in the Svan language, brought together several dozen informal leaders from all seventeen communities in Upper Svaneti: Adishi, Becho, Chuberi, Etseri, Ipari, Kala, Khaishi, Latali, Lakhamula, Lenjeri, Mestia, Mulakhi, Nakra, Pari, Tskhumari, Tsvirmi, and Ushguli. The closed congress ruled that Svans are an indigenous people with its own language, traditions and culture and that it is necessary to restore the ancient tradition of holding a pan-Svan congress called lalkhor in order to have more of a say in large-scale infrastructure projects which are planned in the region.[4] The congress also condemned the fact that allegedly a number of pro-dam activists were being paid salaries by Salini Impregilo. An outsider observer at the congress told Democracy and Freedom Watch that “The company started to hire people, whose duties aren’t clear. They hire two or three people from each village and pay them one thousand lari a month — a high salary for local standards. When we asked these people about their positions, they said that they were doing nothing and had no responsibilities except occasional small tasks like changing light bulbs. It was clear, though, that the company was using these people to show the outside world that only a small group of people in Chuberi is against the construction, while the majority is for”

According to Bankwatch campaigners, "the recently published cost-benefit analysis [7] contains gaps like a comparison with investments in energy efficiency as an alternative to the Nenskra dam. More importantly, it doesn’t really include an analysis of any costs.

Yet it did reveal a guaranteed price of USD 0.08532 per kWh at which the government of Georgia will have to buy electricity from Nenskra – almost twice the current wholesale price (USD 0.047) for electricity bought in Georgia and imported from abroad." [6]

In March 2018, 17 communities in Svaneti gathered once again in the traditional Svan Council meeting, Lalkhor, to oppose hydropower projects in the region, as well as a gold mining concession. [8]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Nenskra hydropower project, Georgia
State or province:Upper Svaneti region
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The project consists of a dam, pressure tunnel, surge tank, penstock and powerhouse. Additionally a transfer tunnel will convey the water from Nakra river to the new Nenskra dam reservoir to improve the performance of the Project. An asphalt faced rockfill dam (AFRD) has been selected considering the site conditions in the Nenskra river basin. The peculiarity of the structure is the 65 m deep Cut-Off wall to be realized throughout the alluvial deposit on the river bed.

The other main ancillary structures to the dam are:

The Bottom Outlet structure (tunnel with gate shaft)

The Spillway Structure (tunnel with lateral over flow structure and unlined plunge pool)

The project is capable of providing on average total energy generation of 1219 GWh/y, 259,2 GWh of guaranteed supply in the winter months and maximizes export benefits in the summer months. The power will be distributed through a 220 kV transmission line to Akhari-Jvari substation. [retrieved from Salini Impregilo website]

The estimated cost of the Nenskra project has swollen nearly 50 per cent in the last two years: initially estimated between USD 650-750 million in 2015, costs have risen to USD 1.035 billion according to the AIIB. [6]

Level of Investment:1,035,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:300 families live in Chuberi and 80 families in the village of Nakra.
Start of the conflict:2015
Company names or state enterprises:JSC Nenskra Hydro consortium from Georgia
Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-water) from Republic of Korea
Salini Impregilo from Italy
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Finance Corporation (IFC)
Asian Development Bank (ADB)
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has agreed to provide US$200 million for Georgia's 280-MW Nenskra hydropower plant.
Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM) (KEXIM) from Republic of Korea
European Investment Bank (EIB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Local activists organized at village level
Green Fist and Young Greens
Green Alternative

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsGiven the scale of existing and new hydro developments and supporting infrastructure projects (bypass and access roads, additional high voltage transmission lines and substations and so on), a strategic environmental assessment of the existing and planned plants should be conducted to evaluate the impacts and avoid an excessive burden on river ecosystems. The current Nenskra ESIA fails to assess the cumulative environmental and social impacts of all projects combined.
There is also high seismic risk [1]
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Strengthening of participation
Restoration of ancient village level or community level democratic institution (Lalkhor)
Development of alternatives:The traditional liqwbääl (Svan congress) ruled that Svans are an indigenous people with its own language, traditions and culture and that it is necessary to restore the ancient tradition of holding a pan-Svan congress called lalkhor in order to have more of a say in large-scale infrastructure projects which are planned in the region. According to Svan customary law, respected members of the community serve on the Ialkhor (congress) and are entrusted with mediating conflicts and disputes. (The last time the council met is so long time ago that it is barely within living memory among the oldest members of the community [4])
Other issues discussed during the congress included the need to agree on the strategy for preventing the planned construction of the Khudoni hydro power plant (Khudonhesi in Georgian), including all seventeen communities in the decision-making process regarding planned hydroelectric and mining projects, and develop a legal framework for protecting lands under traditional ownership, which are vulnerable to takeovers by the government and companies.
The congress also concluded that Svaneti’s model of development should move away from hydroelectric infrastructure projects and focus instead on development of ecotourism and agriculture.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The people of Chuberi and nearby villages 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.[1]
This has made people coming together with more awareness of what is going to happen. An ancient traditional congress of respected people from the village has been called back. The resistance is still ongoing.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[7] Economic Cost-Benefit Analysis of Nenskra Hydropower Project: Summary Report

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

International Finance Corporation


[4] Democracy and Freedom Watch - Svan council convenes to stop hydro power plants

by DOMINIK K. CAGARA | Jun 15, 2016

[5] Eca-uk

[3] Democracy and Freedom Watch - Protests resume against the Nenskra hydro power plant in Svaneti

by DOMINIK K. CAGARA | Jul 6, 2016

[1] Bankwatch Network - Nenskra hydropower plant, Georgia

[6] Bankwatch - Dec 2017 - Price tag of Georgia’s Nenskra dam goes through the roof

[8] Bankwatch Network - Indigenous Svan communities unite to block hydro development in Svaneti

Salini Impregilo website

[2] Key Agreements Signed in $1B Nenskra Hydropower Plant in Georgia

Other comments:Most of the information is retrieved from Bankwatch reports. For more information contact:
David Chipashvili
Green Alternative/CEE Bankwatch Network
Georgian Campaigner
[email protected]

Meta information

Contributor:Daniela Del Bene - ICTA/UAB
Last update18/08/2019



Protest against the dam

Source: DFWatch

Site of dam wall construction

The valley to be drown by the Nenskra dam waters

Lalkhor meeting in Mestia

In March 2018, 17 communities in Svaneti gathered once again in the traditional Svan Council meeting, Lalkhor, to oppose hydropower projects in the region, as well as a gold mining concession

Map of Upper Svaneti hydropower plans

Source: Bankwatch