The project, which is to be built on the river Crna Reka (Black River) in the southwestern region of North Macedonia, is planned to be developed through a public-private partnership, with the state-owned power producer Elektrani Na Severna Makedonija (ESM Skopje) acting as the public partner. The decision, which was adopted on 14 September following an evaluation by the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning and a tender commission, awards the rights to the use of water for “production of electricity and construction of hydropower plants on Crna Reka” to the sole bidder to have met the tender conditions, the Government announced. The winning bidder is required within three months to execute an agreement to set up a joint venture and establish a joint stock company with ESM to develop the project, according to which ESM will have a 33 per cent share of the capital. The registered company is obligated, in compliance with the Law on Waters and before signing the agreement for concession, to secure a permit for use of the Crna Reka’ waters.
The project, with an estimated investment of at least €1 billion (US$1.1 billion), is one of the largest and most important energy projects in the Republic of North Macedonia, the Government said. After completing design and securing the necessary permits, construction is expected to take up to seven years. “HPP Čebren, with installed capacity of at least 333 MW, is estimated to have the function of production of electricity, as well as reversible pumping system, thus envisaging the creation of a new artificial lake on Crna Reka, which will be the biggest in our country,” the Government said in its statement. No further details were disclosed on the terms of the concession and the winning bid.
The original tender proposed the granting of a 60-year concession with the exclusive right to build and operate the Čebren pumped-storage plant and dam (with indicative installed capacity of 333 MW) and the Orlov Kamen Dam (with possibility for an additional hydropower plant at the site), and the exclusive right to operate and maintain the downstream 116 MW Tikves plant. The project was to entail the construction of two concrete arch dams. The Čebren dam will impound the upper reservoir and the Orlov Kamen dam will impound the lower reservoir.
Successive governments have since June 2006 sought and failed to secure a strategic investor to build Čebren as well as the downstream 192.5 MW Galiste storage scheme. In total 13 unsuccessful tenders were held, with the last and seemingly final tender issued in early 2020. The concept for Čebren was initiated in the 1960s with the first feasibility studies conducted in 1964. In 1986 agreements for preparation of the investment-technical documents were signed.