‘The Monster in the Lake’ Makes Millions for Former Bulgarian Minister

Екип на Биволъ

An investigation by Bulgarian journalist Valya Ahchieva for Euractive titled “The Lake Monster that Drank the Water of a Dam in Bulgaria” established from publically available data that 10 million cubic meters of water had been drained in 2018 from the Studena Dam to an unknown direction. Another 4.2 million cubic meters had followed by June 2019. This unaccounted for water had passed through the Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) Studena and then to the wastewater treatment plant of the western city of Pernik. Then, through the Struma River, it had flown into the Pchelina Dam. The latter is filled to the brim, thus guaranteeing profits from another HPP owned by a former Deputy Minister of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party (DPS), the party largely representing the Muslim minority in Bulgaria, a check by Bivol established.

Valya Ahchieva reasonably asks the question who is interested in the unaccounted for water but does not answer definitely for whom the “Monster” works. The usual suspects are Pernik’s industrial consumers – the Steel Plant and the Thermal Power Plant (TPP) Republic. However, they do not need this much water and cannot utilize it.

It turns out that there is another private interest in draining the water of Studena Dam. We found it in the outskirts of Pernik, near the Pchelina Dam. There is a Small Hydroelectric Power Plant (SHPP) owned by the company Power Twenty Twenty (in the headline picture). It belongs to Aynur Mustafov Goshkelov, husband of the former DPS Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MoEWs) Fatme Iliyaz and her brother, Hayri Mussa Kulov.

The Pchelina Dam is located on the Struma River near Pernik and has a volume of 54.8 million cubic meters. It was built in 1975 with the aim of being a sludge collector for industrial wastewater from Pernik’s factories. For this purpose, its dead storage is large – 34.2 million cubic meters. For comparison, the Studena Dam, which is for drinking water, has a maximum volume of 25 million cubic meters and dead storage of 2.4 million cubic meters.

Pchelina has its own catchment – an average of 72 million cubic meters per year, but additional water comes to the Studena Dam, an average of 17.69 million cubic meters. These are the wastewaters from Prenik’s supply of drinking water and from volumes released from Studena to maintain the minimum allowable flow in the Struma River.

The additional inflow also includes the unaccounted for 14 million cubic meters detected by Valya Ahchieva. They cannot evaporate or sink. Since these waters are obviously not used as drinking water by Pernik’s residents or utilized by the city’s factories, they drain naturally along the Struma River to the Pchelina Dam.

Pchelina’s initial permit from 2012 is for the utilization of as much as 182.380 million cubic meters annually, which exceeds twice the inflow to the Dam in a dry year. The amended in 2016 permit allocates for the SHPP Pchelina half of the volume – 89.890 million cubic meters in an average by humidity year.

The data for the production of electricity from the SHPP Pchelina can be found here. From the beginning of 2018 until the end of 2019, the plant produced 6,845 megawatts of green electricity. During peak hours, the price reaches BGN 400 per megawatt hour. Even at average prices, this SHPP has generated in the last two years more than BGN 1 million for Fatme Iliyaz’s family.

The MoEWs has regulations to prevent draining the Dam for electricity production. The SHPP can only operate at a dam volume exceeding 53.6 million cubic meters. This means that to make money, the owner of this SHPP has an interest in the Dam’s reservoir being as full as possible and not falling below that volume. Accordingly, the owner benefits from accounted for or unaccounted for additional water from Studena.

MoEWs charts and tables for the official monthly schedules for water use show that Pchelina has a constant level of around and above 53.8 thousand cubic meters, while the level in Studena varies. In 2019, something very strange had happened. Overall, this had not been a dry year, but no water entered the Studena Dam in April, compared to 2018 when the water volume increased by as much as 7 million cubic meters of water. As if in 2019, there had been no snowmelt in the nearby Vitosha Mountain.

Therefore, the Pchelina Dam remains always full, above the volume at which the SHPP can operate – 53.6 million cubic meters, while the water in the Studena Dam decreases. Currently, the dried-up Studena Dam can no longer supply water to the State-owned HPP-Studena. There is also no drinking water for Pernik’s residents. Meanwhile, the owner of the SHPP Pchelina must be quite happy, as their dam is full to the brim.

It is common knowledge that HPPs and SHPPs play a key role in the energy balance in Bulgaria. The price of this energy is increasing while the capacities remain the same. The most important time for market manipulations is when there is no water or the dams are dry because only those who have water can stay on the market.

In the case of Pchelina Dam, there is water there and it is Studena’s drinking water used as a reserve for DPS activists to ensure the safety of their price game.

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