Turkey begins construction of 1,200-MW Ilisu Dam

Turkey started work August 5 on 1,200-MW Ilisu Dam, a 1.2 billion euro (US$1.54 billion) hydroelectric project, part of the Southeast Anatolia Project, a US$32 billion plan to develop the country’s economically backward southeast and east.

Ilisu, on the Tigris River, is to generate 3.8 billion kWh per year, for the energy-hungry nation. Turkish energy ministry officials say US$3.5 billion to US$5 billion of investment in power plants is needed every year to avoid an energy shortage in 2008 or 2009. Turkey has about 39,000 MW, with nearly half using imported gas. The government plans to use hydropower to lessen dependence on gas.

“On one side there is a need for energy and a brighter future for Turkey and on the other side there is history and culture,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a ground-breaking ceremony. “We have to reconcile this somehow and find a common solution.”

Environmental groups and academicians have protested that Ilisu will inundate part of the ancient town of Hasankeyf. Hasankeyf was used by the Romans as a fortress to ward off Persians. The town was later destroyed by Mongolians and rebuilt in the 11th century by Seljuk Turks.

Anatolian news agency quoted unnamed officials as saying most of Hasankeyf would not disappear. Erdogan told the ground-breaking ceremony that ruins would be moved to a nearby area.

Turkish authorities released updated ecological reports in November, opening the way for construction. German construction firm Ed. Zublin AG and Austrian equipment supplier VA Tech Escher Wyss have said their consortium, including Alstom of France, has taken steps to address concerns about the project. They said they are adhering to standards of the World Bank and the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Anatolian news agency said the consortium would build the plant for Turkey’s General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSi) with loans from Austrian lenders with full Turkish treasury guarantee. Construction is expected to take seven years and employ 20,000 people.

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