‘9.5 billion MNT is required to compensate 270 households’

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Parliament reviewed the environmental impact and other issues related to the construction of the Erdeneburen hydropower plant during its plenary session on December 10.

Minister of Environment and Tourism N.Urtnasan answered lawmaker S.Byambatsogt’s question on the plant’s environmental impact.

In accordance with Government Resolutions No. 42 and 160 of 2018, the government plans to build the Erdeneburen hydropower plant with a capacity of 90 MW, covering areas from Erdeneburen and Myangad soums of Khovd Province to Bayannuur soum of Bayan-Ulgii Province to Umnugovi soum of Uvs Province, the minister noted.

She said that a total of 28,000 hectares of land planned for the construction of the plant were taken for special needs of the state under Government Resolution No. 357 of 2019.

A general environmental impact assessment was conducted in October 2019. New Hydro Project LLC and ENCO LLC, which were selected by the Ministry of Energy as a consultant, conducted a detailed environmental impact assessment for the project this year, according to Minister N.Urtnasan.

The Ministry of Energy and assessment companies made additional estimates, studies, amendments and changes to the detailed environmental impact assessment report, which was later discussed at the Professional Council meeting in April 2021. The Professional Council convened again in May 2021 to discuss the opposition of councils of four soums of three provinces against the project. The council decided to re-introduce the mitigation measures, land acquisition and compensation schedule, and approve the evaluation report after receiving comments from locals.

From May to September this year, the assessment report was re-presented to soum councils for feedback. After that, two provinces’ three soums expressed their support for the project. However, Umnugovi soum of Uvs Province still does not support the Erdeneburen hydropower plant project.

Minister N.Urtnasan shared plans to submit draft amendments to the Law on Environmental Protection and Law on Environmental Impact Assessment to Parliament in accordance with Article 6.2 of the Constitution of Mongolia, which states that citizens have the right to know about the environmental impact of any use of subsoil resources within the framework of their right to live in a healthy and safe environment. Amendments to these laws will ensure the rights and responsibilities of councils of the capital city, soums, districts and provinces, as well as governors to inform citizens about any negative impact of project activities on the environment.

More than 1,100 people from 270 households living in four soums of three provinces are expected to be affected by the project. The project estimates that 9.5 billion MNT will be required to relocate and compensate these households.

Minister N.Urtnasan underscored that the Ministry of Energy, which is implementing the project, has developed a master plan for the phased relocation of 270 households and the Uliast bag center in Umnugovi soum of Uvs Province between 2022 and 2024.

During the session, parliamentarian T.Aubakir commented, “We need to support this major issue. Leaving the area where they have lived for many years is not an easy task for herders. Therefore, it needs to be decided in consultation with local authorities and citizens. Historical monuments and biological resources need to be relocated. It is necessary to solve the problem of migratory birds very well.”

The environment minister replied that the working group conducted a detailed study on herders’ pastures and hay and that the ministry plans to provide fodder to herders at a 50 to 60 percent discount in the early years of the project.

Legislator O.Tsogtgerel emphasized that the Erdeneburen hydropower plant is the main basis for Mongolia’s energy independence.

“Production is developed only in areas where energy is affordable, so the plant must be built. With the construction of the hydropower plant, Khovd Province will develop rapidly and become an industrial ‘paradise’ thanks to cheap energy sources. The compensation of 9.5 billion MNT is low. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the amount of compensation,” lawmaker B.Purevdorj remarked.

S.Byambatsogt mentioned, “The Council of Umnugovi soum of Uvs Province has issued a resolution to stop the construction of a hydropower plant. Soum governors and council must not make arbitrary decisions.”

The environment minister responded that in accordance with the Law on Administrative and Territorial Units and their Management, a decision of soum councils must be approved by their respective provincial council. The independent decision of Umnugovi soum is invalid, she said.

Research team leader N.Sosorburam informed, “We worked at these three provinces four times. We met each of the 270 households in person. We discussed the issue of land transfer, and everyone supported it at that time. Surprisingly, they protested at a public meeting. It is planned to provide 3 million to 36 million MNT to the affected households in Umnugovi soum as compensation, and 30 million to 100 million MNT to households in Bayan-Ulgii Province. The working group will work again to increase the compensation amount under the law. The one-time cost of a hydropower plant is high, but it recoups its investment very quickly.”

“If we are not very careful, we will be attacked by foreign countries. Generally, I support the construction of the Erdeneburen hydropower plant. However, the cost of the hydropower plant is 270 million USD, which is three times more expensive than a coal-fired power plant. A total of 10,000 hectares of land are expected to be flooded. It will affect minerals and historical and cultural monuments,” Member of Parliament Kh.Bolorchuluun noted.

Minister N.Urtnasan commented, “Some 9,871 hectares are expected to be flooded. The protection and rehabilitation of land are regulated by the law. We made a request to protect an area 4.7 times larger than the area to be flooded."

Misheel Lkhasuren