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Advocating for the Utilization of the Bileća Reservoir: A Crucial Discussion to Initiate

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Montenegro undoubtedly asserts its right to use the waters of the Bileća Lake, as stated by the Ministry of Energy and Mining. They added that this issue must be brought up to date to be resolved in the most efficient manner, in accordance with international law and practice.

They believe that it is high time for Montenegro to capitalize on this potential, achieving evident energy, water management, and overall economic development in line with EU legislation, as reported by Pobjeda.

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“It is evident that Montenegro holds a significant share in the hydroenergy potential of the Trebišnjica hydrosystem, but it has not been utilized for decades, and it is high time to capitalize on it. There is a possibility of proceeding towards organizing international arbitration to resolve this disputed issue, but it should be noted that the judicial process before the International Court could be extremely costly and time-consuming,” said representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Mining to Pobjeda.

They added that their intention is to reach a trilateral agreement between Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), i.e., the Republika Srpska, Croatia, and Montenegro, regarding the division and utilization of the hydroenergy potential of the Trebišnjica, ensuring that each country receives what is rightfully theirs according to international law.

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Officials from that government department stated that it is an extremely complicated process that, unfortunately, has not been resolved for over half a century. They mentioned that the Montenegrin government has undertaken a series of activities since 2003 aimed at reaching an agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina, specifically its entity Republika Srpska, regarding the division of the hydroenergy potential of the Bileća Lake. However, no agreement has been reached.

“This is an issue involving three states and not only concerns the fair distribution of the lake’s hydro potential but also what rightfully belonged to us in the previous period. Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Croatia, prefer the status quo because in this way, they can freely use the potential, generate electricity, without any obligations towards Montenegro,” explained representatives from the Ministry.

They added that, therefore, there must be a move in three interrelated directions, requiring the involvement of three states, multiple institutions, various ministries, and local administration, with the least desirable scenario being the International Court.

The Ministry stated that the first direction is the procedure to determine Montenegro’s rights in the valorization of the Bileća reservoir and the hydro potential of Trebišnjica.

“Resolving the fair distribution of the hydroenergy potential of the Trebišnjica hydrosystem, which is fully utilized by other countries, is a very important issue for Montenegro. Montenegro undoubtedly asserts its right to use the waters of the Bileća Lake, according to all domestic and international regulations and laws governing this matter,” stated the Ministry.

It is estimated that Montenegro is entitled to 40% of the Bileća Lake watershed area and 24% of the total reservoir volume.

The Ministry added that the second direction involves the issue of compensation for the use of the waters of the Bileća Lake.

“It is known that Montenegro has not received compensation to date for any kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by using the waters of the Bileća Lake, even though Montenegrin authorities have raised this issue several times. We won’t say anything new if we state that the authorities of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the majority of the Bileća Lake is located within the territory of Republika Srpska, have not been cooperative,” emphasized the Ministry.

They pointed out that since 1968, the Bileća Lake has been supplying electricity to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia through the Trebišnjica hydropower system, namely the hydroelectric power plants Trebinje 1, Trebinje 2, Dubrovnik 1, and Čapljina. Despite around 40% of the water flow coming from Montenegro, and about a fifth of the lake’s surface being on its territory, Montenegro has not received compensation for any kilowatt-hour of electricity from that system.

“This is an interstate issue involving three independent states – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro. In addition to a mutually agreed resolution, arbitration is also an option, but all three parties need to agree on who will arbitrate, and all three parties must accept the arbitration award. There is also the option of an international court as the ultimate instance,” stated the Ministry.

The third direction concerns compensation for submerged land, which was paid until 1992 and also involves local administration.

The Ministry mentioned that previous governments attempted to address this issue through various initiatives. The latest initiative was in March 2022 when the government issued a conclusion instructing the then Ministry of Capital Investments to form an expert team.

“The results on this basis have not been achieved since the work of this team did not take off. The stance of this government is that the issue must be brought up to date to strategically resolve the significant issue of valorizing water from the perspective of developing the energy potential in the most efficient and effective way, in line with international law and practice in these cases,” stated the Ministry.

They reminded that the Trebišnjica hydropower system, as a significant Yugoslav project, began its implementation in 1952.

“It is evident and undisputed that Montenegro holds a significant share in the hydroenergy potential of the Trebišnjica hydrosystem, but it has not been utilized until now. It is high time for Montenegro to capitalize on this potential, achieving evident energy, water management, and overall economic development, all in line with EU legislation, namely the EU Water Framework Directive and the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Helsinki Convention),” stated the Ministry.

They added that, according to the agreement on the use of water from the Bileća Lake, which includes the distribution of the hydroenergy potential of the Trebišnjica hydropower system, signed between the socialist republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro in 1971, Montenegro is only mentioned in the part related to compensation for submerged land. The other two republics divided the potential, with 78% going to Bosnia and Herzegovina and 22% to Croatia.

“The significant imbalance in the distribution of the potential is partly due to the fact that the Bileća Lake is mostly located within the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bileća Lake submerged a significant part of Montenegro’s territory, and Montenegro also owns a significant part of its watershed area. Since the exploitation of the Trebišnjica hydropower system began, Montenegro has not participated in the distribution of electricity. Until 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina paid Montenegro a contribution for submerged land,” explained the Ministry.

They mentioned that the spatial plan of Montenegro and the Energy Development Strategy until 2030 include a project for valorizing the hydroenergy potential of the Bileća Lake through the construction of the hydroelectric power plant HE Boka, with a machine building near Risno.

“However, there is no adequately developed documentation for the HE Boka project. For the potential realization of the HE Boka project, it is necessary to first reach an interstate agreement on the use of hydro potential, then intensify analyses and investigative work, conduct feasibility studies to ensure sufficiently high-quality foundations for making investment decisions for the potential construction of HE Boka after 2030,” stated the Ministry of Energy.

They mentioned that it is estimated that the watershed area of the Bileća Lake belonging to Montenegro is about 40%, while the volume of the reservoir belonging to Montenegro is 24% of the total reservoir. This information is the result of a Subsector Study conducted by experts from the Government and the University of Montenegro for the needs of the Government, where the criterion “size of the volumetric share of the total water potential from the territory of Montenegro” was correctly applied.

“The water management basis of Montenegro provides data on the size of the watershed area of Montenegro towards Trebišnjica, which is 541 square kilometers, receiving 936 hectometers cubic of water annually. From this area, 755 hydroelectric cubic meters of water are discharged into the Trebišnjica hydrosystem annually, taking into account the inflow from Montenegrin territory amounting to 24 cubic meters per second,” specified the Ministry of Energy.

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