The most important source of electricity in Albania is the Komani hydro power plant in the mountains of the Puka region. Here, pine trees and bare limestone dot the hills around Lake Koman, itself the result of past construction of a dam.
Only a few lucky tourists have discovered its spectacular landscape until now. The most frequent visitors are Albanian school children who come to learn how the water flow is transformed into electricity that powers their homes, schools and cities.
They find out that the Komani dam, with an installed power of 600 MW, is the largest of a complex including three hydro cascades that produce 65 per cent of Albania’s electricity demand. Such an energy source produces no greenhouse gas emissions or waste; it is clean and renewable.
This crucial piece of infrastructure is now up for a major upgrade which aims to enhance the dam’s safety. The EBRD is investing €12.7 million in this operation worth over €70 million in which the Albanian government and other international financial institutions are taking part.
There is a lot to do given that no major maintenance work has been carried out for in the almost 30 years since the structure was built.
The dam’s state of disrepair can be appreciated by the naked eye in its lower external part, which is corroded by the spill water and slowly crumbling. Further weaknesses were exposed after exceptional rainfall in 2010, highlighting the need to improve resilience in the face of ever more frequent extreme weather conditions.
“We are completing the removal of debris at the toe and the construction of the serpentine road which will improve access to the dam,” said Astrit Beqiri, the Director of the Komani plant at the Albanian Power Corporation (KESH), the state company that manages the largest generation plants in Albania.
The work to cement the dam and introduce rock fall measures is due to start in March 2015, he added. The project is based on the results of a feasibility study funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). It helped identify urgent investment needs to bring the dam safety to modern standards, including a better monitoring and alarm system and improved procedures and maintenance operations.
Keeping the local community informed about the project and its progress is very important, given the potential impact on locals’ daily lives. (The power plant employs 140 people, the majority of whom are from the area.) Consultations are regularly held through a stakeholder participation programme.
“It’s a relief to know that the dam will be safer,” said Sergi, a student from Tirana visiting his grand-parents who live nearby. Iit’s good for our jobs and for our families.”
The benefits are obvious. The hydropower plant can provide even more electricity safely and help Albania’s economy and people meet future demands in a sustainable way. The project also ensures that many more school children – and eventually tourists – will be able to visit the picturesque surroundings of Lake Koman in years to come.