We are especially keen, as is any other environmental agencies working in Egypt, to ensure that any project undertaken in Egypt is directed towards the support and enhancement of the livelihood of our own people, and ensuring environmental sustainability remains one of the key points in our assessment of these projects.
Nuweiba lies on a large flood plain sandwiched between the Sinai mountains and the Gulf of Aqaba, and is located some 150 km north of Sharm el Sheikh, 465 km southeast from Cairo and 70 km south of the Israel–Egypt border separating Taba and Eilat.
Nuweiba is one of the most picturesque parts of the whole southern Sinai Peninsula, has an excellent and unique tourism potential, is home to two major Sinai Bedouin tribes, the Tarabin and the Maizena, and has an almost unique, relatively undisturbed underwater marine life. Its wonderful coastline still hosts unexplored creeks and long beaches, and the mountains behind the shore contribute in the making it a breathtaking place.
Nuweiba Castle has also been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site (http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/199/). The castle was erected under ruins of an ancient one and it is traced to the Ayoubid period, erected in 1893 on the southern sectio of the old one whose blocks were used in building the outer wall which shows (Mazagell) openings for war. The castle includes a shaft, which is still used, and some chambers.
In this environmental, cultural and historical valuable site, the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (EEHC) proposed the construction of a 750 MW gas-fired combined-cycle power plant comprising two identical 375 MW modules, each one including a 250 MW combustion turbine generator (ISO), a 125 MW steam turbine generator and a heat recovery steam generator (HRSG), the whole plant covering a surface of 105,000m2. The contract for its construction was awarded to Power Generation Engineering and Services Company (PGESCO).
"The amount of discharged water into the Red Sea, plus the impact of building on the coastline, is criminal, given that the entire place is promoted as an eco-destination," said HEPCA’s managing director, Amr Ali.
Organisation, investors, residents and workers in Nuweiba stood up against this black project which, according to some rumours, had already received the approval from the EEAA after the examination of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment, required by the Ministry of Environment for project approval and permits) conducted by the East Delta Electricity Production Company (EDEPC, developer) in cooperation with the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (EEHC).
The NGO Hemaya stood against the plant. The community gathered together to protest. Moreover, an online petition “Stop the Destruction of Nuweiba and its Coral Reefs!” was published and signed by more than 2000 persons subscribing the following thought “If such a plant proceeds, it will have a disastrous effect on the local tourism industry, on the local Bedouin population and, above all, on the local environment.”
Major concerns were also summarized in the petition “Apart from the obvious enormous detrimental effects such a project will have on the local environment and population during the construction period, once operational, the plant will have a negative impact on the quality of air, will reduce the level of sunlight, increase noise pollution and, above all, will damage seriously and irreparably the marine life and coral reefs that lie all along the east coast of Nuweiba adjacent to where the plant is planned to be built. The increase in water temperature will damage the aquatic life in Nuweiba in a number of ways, most prominently by causing a rapid reduction in the number of different fish species found here, causing the death of some and by forcing others to move to distant stretches of reef, but also by inducing coral bleaching and rapidly increasing the amount of algae in the water. This effect will initially be localised to the reefs in the immediate vicinity of the plant, but will, over time, extend to destroy more and more of the reefs in Nuweiba and further afield. Such a large power plant will also cause the eventual demise of the local tourist industry and subsequently force the closure of the hotels, dive centers and other tourist service providers in the area, resulting in the loss of jobs for the many workers within the tourism industry and the loss of livelihood for the various local businesses that supply products and services to the tourism industry in Nuweiba. Tourism is a major source of income for the local Bedouin tribes so the effects on the loss of this industry are simply unimaginable.”
Air quality, aquatic environment, noise and vibration, land use, landscape and visual issues; soils, geology and hydrogeology; flora and fauna; traffic; major accident hazards; natural disaster (flood, seismic) risk; solid waste management; occupational health and safety are all elements to take into account in an Environmental Impact Assessment.
HEPCA, at that time, assumed a critic attitude, commissioning a group of experts to comprehensively assess the executive summary of the Nuweiba power plant plan. Few open questions and weaknesses were brought to the attention of the community
- The executive summary lacks information. It reads more like an introduction. For instance, there is no solid information about the modeling of air pollution and noise.
- The provided location map does not show the position of the plant.
- There is contradiction in information related to the planned sites.
- The summary mentions that the selected site is alternative 7. The site was selected to satisfy the evaluation criteria. These criteria do not mention whether the site has been selected as the best of 7 in terms of environment, engineering, social or economic criteria.
- The Fact that the Gulf of Aqaba is protected under the law of natural protectorates was not considered as one of the legal aspects to consider in this project.
Legitimate doubts and legitimate questions.
In the beginning of September 2009, all environmental related objections determined a delay of the project. The community would not have accepted vague answers, nor the EEAA, which such an attention on the project, would have approved it unless completely unarguable.
And probably some weaknesses remained as, scheduled to be build in December 2009, the project was eventually cancelled. HEPCA reported in its newsletter on 1 January 2010 that "the European Investment Bank has declined a US$320 million loan to finance the project amid considerable pressure from environmental campaigners.” Apparently, the European Investement Bank, after sending independent experts to evaluate the situation, confirmed that the project would have had negative social and environmental effects if the location was not changed. Ayoun Moussa was being considered as the new location however no final decision was taken.
According to Sherif el-Ghamrawy, owner of one of the ecolodges in the area, a new legal and civil activism was born in Egypt. He declared also “What we took most from this campaign was how the whole society came together, as one front, including the two Bedouin tribes inhabiting the area, the Tarabin and Maizena, who have a history of feuds”.
Again, an example of the power of a solid and united community.
Executive summary of the Nuweiba power plant plans