Turkish dam policy is at something of a crossroads. While some countries have abandoned the construction of large scale schemes, the government in Ankara is staunchly defending its pro-dam policy. Opposition has come from a variety of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and neighbouring countries, but new schemes are still likely to be developed. However, the country’s application to join the European Union (EU) and the attraction of smaller scale hydro projects are expected to result in a subtle change of direction, as the government tries to marry a large scale increase in generating capacity with encouraging more proactive private sector participation. m2ö

Dam construction in Turkey has long focused on large scale projects that aim to both generate electricity and provide irrigation water, as well as sometimes control flooding. Some have been built in the face of substantial local hostility, while others have remained on the drawing board as a result of combined local and international opposition. While some such jumbo projects may well still be developed, the Law on the Utilisation of Renewable Energy Resources for Electricity Production, which was passed by the Turkish parliament in May, looks likely to trigger a spate of much smaller hydro schemes across the country.


The new renewables legislation guarantees minimum tariffs for electricity produced by renewable energy schemes until 2012. Average wholesale electricity tariffs have been set at 5 ct/kWh, so wind, solar, geothermal and small scale hydro ventures can all benefit. In addition, the state owned Electricity Generating and Transmission Corporation (TEAS) is required to connect all renewables projects to the national grid. The government is also providing direct funding for 29 small scale hydro and wind projects that will collectively provide 1379MW of additional generating capacity by 2010. Most of the schemes are being developed under build operate transfer (BOT) contracts with the help of US$200M of World Bank funding. In 1999, total Turkish small, mini and micro hydro capacity stood at just 126.5MW from 57 separate projects but this figure should top 600MW by 2010.

Another new piece of legislation, the Electricity Market Law (EML), is expected to lead to a fall in tariffs paid to private companies that develop thermal power plants under BOT contracts. As a result the government is keen to find as many ways as possible of encouraging private sector investment in the power sector. Moreover, the main tenets of the EML do concern the removal of restrictions on private operators.

A spokesperson for the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSI) explained that power generation and irrigation remained the most important benefits of dam construction but added that other factors were gaining in importance. He said: ‘Dams are very important for Turkey because they are not only contributing to the wealth and health of the people, they are also considered as the best means of repairing the destruction caused by the uncontrolled water power on earth. Destruction by the uncontrolled water power not only affects the lands or the plants, but also the people around there, to the climate, to the wildlife, in summary to the whole of nature. If they are not properly controlled, they create social and economic disasters.’ According to government figures, about 4.6M ha of the country’s total agricultural land of 8.5M ha is now irrigated by water from single or multi-purpose dams, so it can be seen that agriculture is as important to government dam policy as electricity generation.

Electricity consumption increased by more than 100% during the 1990s and despite a temporary economic downturn in 2001, the current decade is likely to see demand grow by 50-100%. Even the raft of gas fired plants that have been proposed would be unable to cope with this pace of increase over the next ten years, so the government is eager to make the most of all strands of the generation mix at its disposal.

At the end of November, the Turkish government announced that the privatisation parastatal, OIB, is to privatise or at least sell stakes in the country’s hydroelectric power plants. As a result of plans drawn up with the IMF, the government has agreed to privatise a large proportion of the remaining state owned enterprises and it has now turned its attentions to the hydro sector. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) dominated government signed up to the privatisation programme as part of an IMF bail out in 2001. However, if the experience of other sectors is anything to go by, the privatisation process is likely to take some time, particularly as neither the government nor OIB has yet published any definitive timetable for the process. At present, just 10% of total generating capacity is controlled by private sector concerns.

As of July 2005, Turkey’s 135 hydroelectric plants contributed generating capacity of 12,631MW to total national capacity of 32,300MW and there is certainly the potential to develop many more hydro schemes in the country. Turkey’s gross theoretical hydro power potential stands at 433,000GWh a year; technically feasible potential at 215,000GWh at year; and economically feasible potential at 123,385GWh a year. The final figure equates to 34,862MW of generating capacity, while just 17% of the country’s technically feasible potential has thus far been developed. This figure should increase as several schemes that are under development near completion.

The most well publicised hydro venture is the Greater (Southeast) Anatolia Project (GAP) in the south-east of the country, which has a reputed price tag of US$32B. The 21 dams included in the overall scheme will provide water for 19 power plants with total generating capacity of 7474MW. This includes the country’s largest hydroelectric plant, the 2400MW Ataturk facility, plus the 1800MW Karakaya, 1200MW Ilisu, 240MW Cizre, 240MW Silvan, 208MW Hakkari, 200MW Alpaslan II, 198MW Batman, 180MW Konaktepe and 180MW Karkamis plants. Electricity production from all 19 hydro plants is estimated at 27 TWh a year. The scale of the venture’s ambition is demonstrated by the fact that the largest Turkish hydroelectric scheme outside the GAP is the 1330MW Keban installation.

It had been expected that most new generating capacity would be provided by gas fired plants and indeed Turkey hit the headlines when it was calculated that the country had signed up for deals to import too much natural gas. A succession of pipeline projects have either been developed, are under construction or have been planned. However, a financial slump in 2001 hit both economic growth and demand for electricity, resulting in the government’s decision to renegotiate some of the gas deals but the economy has since rebounded strongly and new generating capacity is again needed.

Gas fired facilities will certainly play a role but there also seems to be a place for hydro. Apart from anything else, the over enthusiastic dash for gas has highlighted the danger of relying too heavily on energy imports. Ankara is therefore keen to expand national hydro and wind generating capacity in order to ensure that a substantial proportion of national requirements are provided by Turkish power projects.

In its response to the World Commission on Dams’ final report, Turkey’s DSI highlighted the fact that the government is not yet ready to turn its back on major dam projects. It argued: “It is clear that the overall approach is negative concerning the role of dams, generalizing adverse aspects, unsatisfactory social and economic benefits’. The response continues: ‘Alternatives to large dams recommended by the report as ‘near term solutions’ are qualitatively interesting, but are not realistic on an adequate scale to meet the needs of an extra three billion people by the year 2050. In addition to this, the social and ecological impacts of these suggested alternatives are not discussed for comparison.’ It concludes: ‘In the report there is a tendency of avoiding to imply any explicit figures for the benefits of dams while the estimated figure of total investment in large dams worldwide is expressed as more than $2 trillion.’

The DSI insists that the social, ecological and cultural impact of Turkish dam projects on the surrounding area is already carefully considered as part of adequate environmental impact assessments (EIAs). A government spokesperson also insisted that resettlement programmes for affected people were more than fair. He stated: ‘To ensure that resettlement takes place in a well planned way, and to minimize its adverse effects, it is necessary for people, NGOs and institutions that run the country and make decisions to define their goal, policies and strategies for resettlement and rehabilitation. From the experience obtained on the previous projects, it has been found that around 25% of the affected families choose government assisted resettlement. The remaining 75% of affected families prefer self resettlement rather than government resettlement because they receive sufficient expropriation compensation to affording their own resettlement cost.’

EU dream influences dam policy

Ankara’s political and economic ambitions are likely to influence the direction of the country’s power sector policy and the manner of the development of dam projects. Turkey’s long standing ambition of joining the EU has been well documented and despite several set backs, the country is now closer than ever to gaining a place at Europe’s top table. The ten latest states to join the EU all had to make progress on controlling their greenhouse gas emissions and on promoting renewable energy before their candidatures were accepted. In particular, they were required to comply with the details of EU directive 2001/77/EC, which requires the Union as a whole to generate 22.1% of its electricity requirements by renewable means by 2010.

Although existing members will probably have to make up most of this target, potential accession states must draw up plans to reach this level as quickly as possible. Turkey’s Law on the Utilisation of Renewable Energy Resources for Electricity Production was no doubt drawn up in order to further this aim and promote the Turkish membership campaign, despite the fact that it is not required to cut its greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, emissions are expected to increase through a combination of new thermal power plants and rapid industrialisation. The EU will therefore keep a close watch on Ankara’s efforts to minimise the rate of emissions growth.

Tanay Sidki Uyar, the Turkish vice president of the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA), praises the new legislation. He commented: ‘We are very pleased that after years of discussion we have been able to convince the Turkish parliament to take a first, but important step to strengthen the country’s decentralised renewable energy sector.’ Uyar added: ‘This law also brings Turkish energy policies closer in line with European Union legislation, but we still hope for further improvements which is also the objective of the European renewable energy directive.’ The details of the new law are very similar to those contained in renewable energy legislation in other EU states, underlining Turkey’s efforts to harmonise energy sector policy.

As Turkey controls the headwaters of several important rivers, its dam projects have brought it into conflict with several other states. For instance, the construction of the US$1.6B Ilisu dam on the river Tigris was opposed by the Iraqi government, while Damascus has been concerned about the impact of dam construction on the river Euphrates. As elsewhere in the world, dam construction on rivers that cross international boundaries can easily become a source of friction.

However, the prospect of improved transmission links between Turkey and the Middle East as a whole should promote power trading and could help to minimise such conflict. When countries like Iraq and Syria benefit from electricity generated within Turkey, they may be less tempted to oppose new dams. It has long been predicted that resource conflict in general and water disputes in particular could trigger a wave of conflicts in the Middle East.

The key to avoiding this will surely be to promote energy and water sector integration across the region. Such cooperation is already tying the Turkish power sector to those of neighbouring states. The country already imports electricity from Bulgaria, Iran and Turkmenistan and, perhaps most remarkably, a transmission line now links the Turkish and Greek power grids. In the longer term, the government hopes to ensure that Turkey becomes a power sector interchange for the Middle East and Europe, so there should be plenty of opportunities for new power plants to target foreign markets as well as Turkish consumers.

Rising Turkish demand for electricity has also triggered hydro developments in neighbouring countries. A 500kV transmission line is to connect the Turkish and Georgian grids, partly in order to enable the import of electricity from the 600 MW Hudonhesi hydro plant in Georgia. Construction work on the project was suspended about 20 years ago but investment of around $500 million has now been secured to enable the scheme to generate electricity for the domestic market and for export to Turkey. A bilateral deal has also been reached between the Turkish and Syrian governments for the construction of a dam on the River Asi. Some electricity is expected to be generated but the Turkish government has so far focused on the irrigation benefits of the venture.

DSI’s claim that it will ‘continue to work to ensure that these dams will be planned and constructed in an environmentally, socially and economically sound way’ may not convince all NGOs concerned with the negative environmental and human impact of dam projects. However, the EU will certainly be keeping a close watch on future dam projects in Turkey and Ankara’s ultimate ambition of joining the world’s biggest single market should ensure that more regard is paid to the negative effects of such ventures.

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