Key hydroelectric projects are being revived as part of a push by Athens to decarbonise and meet irrigation needs. Acheloos, Greece – In some of the remotest gorges of western Greece, at the ends of roads that wind like small intestines, sit the country’s biggest white elephant projects. The Mesohora dam, completed 20 years ago, towers across a ravine cut by the Acheloos river, but its reservoir is empty. Downstream lies the unfinished Sykia dam. When work crews departed in 2009, its clay core stood to a fraction of the 150-metre (492 feet) height it is supposed to reach, the gravel buttresses even lower. The two dams were supposed to produce at least 890 gigawatt hours per year (GWh), enough to power tens of thousands of homes, but the Acheloos continues to flow around them through diversion tunnels. This is because Mesohora and Sykia, along with two other hydroelectric dams on which construction had not started, were part of a system with a dual purpose. They were designed to sustain enormous reservoirs – almost three-quarters of a billion tonnes between them – in order to divert 600 million tonnes of water each year to the Thessaly plain, Greece’s biggest farming region. A 17km (10.5 miles) tunnel bored under the Pindos mountains for the purpose, but never lined with concrete, is now in danger of collapsing. Unsustainable farming practices have led Thessaly to pump its underground aquifer almost dry, and desertification now threatens this region of one million people. Since 2000, the Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, has repeatedly ruled that cultural and environmental impacts of the Acheloos diversion have not been properly assessed, bringing works to a halt. That left more than a billion dollars of taxpayer money literally sunk in the ground. Now amid rising temperatures linked to climate change and the obligation to meet clean energy goals, the conservative New Democracy government tells Al Jazeera it is reviving the dam projects as part of a plan to meet both Greece’s decarbonisation targets and its irrigation needs. “The works of the upper Acheloos will be completed in the next five to six years, based on new and improved studies,” the environment ministry told Al Jazeera in written answers. The upper Acheloos river is also known as Aspropotamos, or white river, because of the limestone pebbles that form the river bed [John Psaropoulos/Al Jazeera] Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently said the government will launch public-private project funding for more than a billion dollars’ worth of irrigation infrastructure works, including dams, lakes and pipe networks. “The government plans to construct 21 major irrigation works,” Mitsotakis told a gathering of regional prefects on November 9. “These are of paramount importance for a country that invests in primary industry and wants its farmers not to have to worry about their primary resource, which is water.” The Acheloos projects are not included in the current round of funding. Turning to face the sun and wind Given its ample sun and wind, Greece is a green energy laggard in Europe. In 2019, it produced just 29 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, compared with an EU average of 34 percent. Portugal, a country of similar wealth and population to Greece, already produces two-thirds of its electric power from renewable sources. Greece’s straggling is partly because its main energy producer, the Public Power Corporation (PPC), has for 20 years fought tooth and nail to maintain coal as its main energy source. That left the production of electricity from renewables and gas entirely in the hands of private producers. The result of the PPC’s policy was that its share of the electricity market shrank over two decades from 100 percent to 40 percent. Now, the PPC is turning itself around and turbocharging the green energy revolution. The beginning of this turnaround came in September 2019, when Mitsotakis announced that the PPC would phase out coal by 2028. At September’s UN General Assembly, he suggested that could now happen as early as 2025. “We have very poor quality [coal], and have to burn a lot of it to produce the energy we need,” says energy expert Miltiadis Aslanoglou. “Natural gas produces about 300-350 grammes of carbon dioxide per megajoule. A good quality coal produces about 800 grammes of carbon dioxide per megajoule. Our lignite coal produces 1,200 grammes of carbon dioxdie megajoule in the best-case scenario.” Greece’s Ptolemaida I-IV power station, which burns coal, is to be decommissioned by 2023 under broader plans to phase out use of the energy source within the next decade [John Psaropoulos/Al Jazeera] That has led to skyrocketing costs for the PPC, which drew 27 percent of its power from coal last year, and has to buy the right to pollute from Europe’s carbon market. Those polluting rights will burden its balance sheet by about $1bn this year because the cost of carbon permits has . . . read the full article here.