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Bjorn Brandzaeg

Bjorn Brandzaeg: Minimizing Environmental Impact is Main Priority of our Project

Interview with Bjorn Brandzaeg.

– CEGG is about to construct the largest project in Georgia’s hydro energy sector, as it is known, your company held public discussions with local residents living within the project area. What was the aim of these meetings?

The purpose of the discussions was to explain our plans for the Namakhvani project development, set out how the project would look like and present the consequences of developing the project. The meetings also kick started the public consultation process about the compensation for the land acquisition. Public Consultation Committees are being established to get the peoples input on fair land compensation, priorities for the community investment programmes etc.

– What is local residents’ attitude, as it is known, part of the society is against the construction of hydro power plant.

The attitude is mixed as expected. Some people see the benefits the project will bring including construction jobs, better infrastructure in the area, community investment programmes ect. Others are concerned about the impact of the project on landslides in the valley, change in micro climate, etc.

We have set up a community consultation team comprising 10 people living in the area where the Namakhvani project will be built.  Our team meets local residents on daily basis and provides them with information about the project. We consider it important to keep them updated with complete information before construction begins, and we do our best to answer all of their questions thoroughly. Once construction is complete, we want every local resident to feel satisfied with the process, so we will implement this strategically important project in close cooperation with them.

– Your company is a winner of tender announced by GEDF, JSC Namakhvani has obtained all permits, undertaken all required investigations necessary for starting the constructions but as it is known, you are undertaking supplementary investigations. What investigations are these?

CEGG has spent approximately one year to go through the design prepared by the government supported by Stucky, our Swiss based engineer for the project. The purpose of the studies have been to verify the earlier design commissioned by the Georgian government and undertake by the Italian consulting firm Studio P. Our assessment has largely confirmed the earlier work done.

We also want to confirm the rock depth at the dam locations and better understand the impact of building a reservoir on slope stability in the area. This is the reason why we have commissioned additional site investigation.

– When do you plan to discuss EIA report with NGO sector and all stakeholders?

The project already has an EIA and a construction permit. We are currently updating the environmental and social studies to comply with international guidelines including EU rules and IFC/EBRD standards. The French consulting firm SLR is doing this work. The studies will be published in the coming months, and we will be organizing a public consultant process where we welcome views and critique of the assessments made. All interested parties including the NGOs critical of the project will be invited to participate in the discussions, which we hope will be undertaken in a respectful and civilized way.

– Local residents note that the construction may substantially change micro climate and endanger local grape species. How real is this danger? 

Minimizing environmental impact is main priority of our project. We have used international micro-climate expertise to assess the concerns as part of the supplementary EIA we are preparing. The conclusion is that this will no major change in the micro climate, including in Tvishi, were we are aware that there are concerns among the wine growers. We will install monitoring equipment to document the effect on the microclimate of building the reservoir in Tvishi.

There is a general process of global climate change ongoing where the average temperature in Georgia is expected to increase by 1-2 degrees over the next 30 years. The Namakhvani project producing renewable energy will displace fossil fuels and will help reducing the effect of global climate change.