Hydropower in Turkey: Economical, social and environmental aspects and legal challenges

Turkey, as a rapidly developing and industrializing country, is in need of reliable, inexpensive, and high quality energy. The main energy sources of Turkey are coal, natural gas and hydropower. However, almost all the natural gas and high quality coal is imported. Thus, hydropower is the main domestic energy source. According to the State Hydraulic Works (SHW), the primary executive state agency responsible for the planning, operation, and management of water resources, Turkey has an economically viable hydroelectric potential of 140,000 GWh/year. Currently, around 35% of this potential is utilized. Increasing the share of hydropower in the energy budget of Turkey will reduce dependency on foreign energy sources. However, development of the unused hydropower potential, especially through run-of-river plants, has caused many problems in the country. Run-of-river plants are small hydropower plants (SHPPs) usually with no storage. Electricity Market Law No. 4628 which came into effect in February 2001 was a major step towards the privatization of the electricity sector. The law enabled planning and construction of SHPPs by the private sector. This created a big market for consulting firms which prepare feasibility reports, construction companies, and companies that own and operate these SHPPs. However, due to inadequate water resources management strategies, rivers are impaired; their natural flows are disturbed to generate electricity without paying necessary attention to components of the ecosystem and the needs and concerns of local residents. Thus, Turkey faces a challenging problem: Maximizing the utilization of hydropower which is the main domestic energy source while maintaining environmentally conscious and sustainable development. This study aims to explain the change in the contribution of hydropower in the energy budget of Turkey with time and current social and environmental problems associated particularly with SHPPs. Issues requiring immediate attention to facilitate sustainable development of hydropower potential are identified.