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 What Altai Hydroelectric Power Station is Bringing

Indigenous Issues
/Dmitry Verkhoturov/
In the Altai Republic there are still severe discussions about the construction of hydroelectric power station on the Katun River. Positions of opponents of construction of any hydroelectric power stations, of supporters of construction according to the first soviet project – Katun and counter-regulating Chemal Hydroelectric Power Station, and of supporters of construction of Altai Hydroelectric Power Station, which is much less by capacity and cheaper, come into collision.
However, as one of the most authoritative hydro-engineers remarked, they all refer to the same project – cascade on the Katun River. The main hydroelectric power station on the Katun with 1600 megawatt output, counter-regulating Chemal hydroelectric power station with 300 megawatt output, temporary dam for turning the Katun into an artificial riverbed – Altai Hydroelectric Power Station with 140 megawatt output.

The discussion between different variant of hydroelectric power station is the discussion from which part of the project to start its implementation: from the main dam or subsidiary ones. So, there are only two principle positions: for the construction of hydroelectric power stations and flatly against.
We will not repeat the arguments of supporters or opponents. Let’s look at the case from the point of view of the experience of construction of big power stations in other regions and their social and economical consequences.
The energy for the export, the Altai people for the export too?
The supporters of hydro-energetic gigantism try to explain that a big hydroelectric power station can provide prosperity for the republic due to export of electric power. At first sight it sounds great. At second – not so good. In CIS there are two countries counting on export of electric power. These are Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Both of the countries are very poor, both countries supply hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to Russia, and in both countries the growth of export of electric power haven’t influenced considerably the development of economy and prosperity of citizens. The profit of the export doesn’t reach the population, but is shared mainly among a power company (“Kyrgyzenergo” or “Barki Tochik”) and the state budget. By the way, the population doesn’t enjoy the welfare of cheap electricity and has to steal it in such amounts that losses in power circuits reach 40-50% of the total output.
Besides, hydroelectric power stations do not give stable amount of electric power due to fluctuation of water level in reservoirs in years of “high water” and “low water”. That’s why in the years of “low water” the situation in these countries is very strained.
If we wish to repeat the experience of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, we can try. But in this case all the profit will be received by power engineering companies and the government of the Altai Republic. The rest of the population will have to experience unemployment, to compete with citizens of the two countries exporting electric power on the market of unqualified labor and steal electricity for personal needs. If you want Altai energy to shift Kyrgyz one on the energy market, and Altai people to replace Tajik people on labor market, you should support the construction of the Katun Hydroelectric Power Station.
By the way, there is an assumption, which has no ground at all, that the power station will create working places. That’s not true. At the official website of joint-stock company “Altai Hydroelectric Power Station” they say that 315 people of the main personnel and 150 people of subsidiary personnel will work for the construction, and 70 people will serve the station. To get into these 70, a resident of Chemal village needs, first, to go to Irkutsk or Tomsk, Ivanovo, Kazan, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and get education of electric engineer.
Even on the building yard there won’t be work for all the residents of Chemal village, let alone other settlements of the region or the republic, and some time later the builders won’t be needed either. So in the case of construction of the hydroelectric power station, Altai people will have to compete with citizens of other countries exporting energy on the labor market anyway.
Energy paradise with a hell makeweight
Hydro-engineers push for implementation the project, which appeared in 1960s and was developed on the same surge as the projects of big Siberian hydroelectric power stations were worked out and implemented. That time they were also justified by the necessity of cheap electric power, and propagandists also showed benefits of abundance of “gratis energy”.
But what happened in reality. The population of those regions really doesn’t pay high tariffs for electricity. But now they live in cities polluted by fumes from numerous plants, work in hot electrolysis workshops, from where they go directly to the cemetery at the age of 35-40. Many of them lost their native places and villages, flooded by the reservoirs, and had to move to concrete many-storied boxes without any hope to leave them now. This is the reverse of construction of big hydroelectric power stations.
Undoubtedly, as soon as it becomes clear that a big hydroelectric power station will appear in the Altai Republic, there will be people eager to construct power-consuming industries, for example, aluminum smelting. They will describe all possible benefits, except for information about sickness and life expectancy rates. Hydroelectric power stations, from the point of view of Russian industrialists and economists, are connected closely with power-consuming industry, that’s why in case of large hydroelectric power station construction, the projects of power-consuming plants will inevitably appear. We should understand that the choice of power station is not only the choice of a cheap energy. This is also the choice of polluted air, dirty water, unhealthy manufacturing, high rate of sickness and death, as well as living in concrete blocks of flats. If Altai people are ready to change their free life in a clean Altai nature for living among concrete boxes with poisoned air and water, they can vote for the hydroelectric power without hesitation.
However, aluminum plant is not the worst variant, it can make living possible. Much worse is if somebody will decide to build in the republic a plant for uranium enrichment, radioactive waste processing or to construct near the dam a large plant for mercury manufacturing, as there are a lot of mercury deposits in the republic. This will be really bad.
Pay for hydroelectric power station and after that you will pay for power circuit as well
Supporters of construction of a large hydroelectric power station avoid mentioning the issue of distributive network. And it is understandable. Fret of the network is 50%, and after the construction of the big station it will need to be modernized totally. One thing is to transmit 500 millions kilowatt-hour of present consumption in the republic, and quite different thing is to transmit gigawatts, which can be produced by Katun power station. Even if this will be only Altai hydroelectric power station, the load of the circuit will grow anyway.
There is a question to the supporters of Katun Hydroelectric Power Station. Let’s suppose a big station has been constructed and we have the source of cheap electric power. How much should it be invested to renewal of the nets in order to bring the energy to every settlement? The republic has a difficult mountain landscape, and power transmission line will be much more expensive than in flat regions. Only cuttings in the forest in mountains will cost a huge sum. In the republic there is no manufacture of towers, cables, insulators, they all will be brought from outside, and every kilometer of power transmission line will be added the cost of delivery of the materials and parts. The same concerns substations, transformers, with their maintenance and repair.
Now this issue is discussed only in connection with the prospects of export of electric power from the Altai Republic. But the same issue refers to supply of the settlements in the republic. If to calculate all the expenses for circuits, including power transmission lines going outside the republic as well as inside it, the amount can be comparable with the cost of the Katun power station itself.
If they count on one electric power station, and do it from the point of view of reducing of the tariffs for electricity, they should take into consideration all the expenses for the station and infrastructure.
Excluding networks, this will be a good business – first to demand 6.6 milliard rubles for the construction of Altai station, and after that, when the capacity of the network will become insufficient, to ask for more money for the construction of power transmission lines.
In other words, if we conclude the evaluation of Altai Hydroelectric Power Station from the point of view of the experience of construction of large hydroelectric power stations in the USSR, we can see that it will bring abrupt worsening of social and economic conditions in the republic even in comparison with the present state. The hydroelectric power station will be beneficial only for a limited group of people, whereas the main part of the population who has paid for that with their lands, houses and health, will probably get only a little reduction of the tariffs, which, however, cannot be guaranteed. With the current growth of the tariffs it can easily happen that the cost of electricity in 2011 won’t be considerably different from the present tariffs in the republic.
Possible alternatives
The supporters of hydropower gigantism amaze by their narrow mindedness. We are tried to ram that the project of the Katun cascade is the only possible, having no alternative variant for Altai power engineering. But that’s not true. There is an alternative, and even multichoice.
Hydropotential of the republic is not limited with the Katun only. There are tens of rivers with hydrological regime suitable for construction of small power stations. That is just the way Altai power engineering had developed before the period of cheap coal and petrol. Multa, Anooy, Maima, Ursul, Ust-Kan, Cherga hydroelectric power stations with output up to 100 kilowatt were constructed. These small stations supplied energy to villages and collective farms. But when in 1960s oil products became very cheap and total changeover to diesel generators began, small hydroelectric power stations were closed and abandoned.
Today supporters of hydropower gigantism state that construction of small power stations is unprofitable. But since that time technologies have made a big step forward from self-made hydro-generators of little efficiency of 1940s to the run production of equipment for small hydroelectric power stations. In Russia there are about 15 manufacturers of hydro-generators for small hydroelectric power stations. New types – non-dam power stations – are produced. Among such a variety of equipment there is always a possibility to choose and order the most suitable equipment for a small power station.
Supporters of the Katun power station pretend that since the time of development of this project hydro-electric engineering haven’t moved forward in technical respect and that big hydroelectric power stations have no alternative. But it is not so, that’s a barefaced lie aiming to force the project of the Katun power station through at any price.
Small hydroelectric power stations allow dividing the power engineering of the republic into two parts. Small settlements are provided by their small stations, while cities and industrial consumers are provided by big electric power stations. Development of small hydropower engineering makes possible to refuse from large investments to construction of transmission networks all over the republic and to concentrate the funds for development of the networks leading to big consumers of electricity.
The prospects of heat energy are rejected for unknown reason
In the Altai Republic there are coalfields: Taldy-Dyuruk (with coal supply 55 mln tons) and Pyzha (with 4.5 mln tons). Small amounts shouldn’t perplex, the coalfields have rather serious probable reserves: 100 mln of lignite and 134.5 mln of coal. It is enough to satisfy the need of the republic.
On the whole, only 40% of the territory of the Altai Republic is covered by the surface geological exploration, no wonder if new coalfields will be opened.
If the amount of coal won’t be sufficient, there is also peat in 13 deposits with 8.3 mln tons of fuel. Probably it is far from the final evaluation. Even if there won’t be enough peat, the republic possesses a big reserve of wood – 669.4 mln m3. Waste of logging and woodworking can be used as a fuel for heat electric power stations.
The modern Russian power equipment consumes 350 gram of conventional fuel to produce 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity. To satisfy full need of electric power of the republic it needs to consume about 1.43 mln tons of coal or 1.6 mln tons of lignite or 2.5 mln tons of peat or 1.5 mln tons of wood wastes. These are approximate figures, but they show possibilities of use of the available fuel for generation.
With present volume of logging – 187 thousand m3 per year, there are about 30 thousand tons wastes formed. If the logging will grow up to 1 mln m3 per year, there will be about 150 thousand tons of wastes already. With maximum rate of logging 3.4 mln m3, in the republic around 510 thousand tons of logging and woodworking wastes will be left.
However, now advanced technologies appeared, which allow combining steam production with agglomeration of lignite semicoke, using powdered coal fuel or coal-water slurry with characteristics close to those of mazut combustion or popping of gas. All these can successfully be applied in power engineering of the Altai Republic. If they want and combine all kinds of fuel, in the near future they can satisfy all the needs of the republic only by heat energy.
The power engineering of the republic can also be developed in two sectors. The first sector is small hydroelectric power stations for support of small settlements. These stations are to be built in all regions of the republic, having suitable rivers. At the stage of construction a system of training of local population for operation and maintenance of these small stations is launched.
The second sector is heat energy for supply of electricity to big consumers and cities, using different kinds of fuel. These objects have to be located either near coalfields, large woodworking plants, or near large settlements including Gorno-Altaisk.
This system will prevent appearance of large-scale raw material industry in the republic, but at the same time it will contribute to development of local commodity production and energy supply of settlements. The government of the republic will be able to electrify the remotest regions with own funds.

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