The Man Behind GES
We met Zafer Gencsoy, the man who would know, in the nicest office in Gerze. He was the face of the Anadolu Group in town, and would be the power plant’s head when it was built. There were six cubicles downstairs, though only one was occupied. On the walls were neatly mounted graphics of what the coal plant would look like, in day and night, from sea and from land. Zafer’s office was on the mezzanine.
One could tell the building had been converted quickly. The stairway to the top was still a narrow spiral of steel, and Zafer warned us to duck to avoid hitting our heads. The furniture – a desk, a few arm chairs, a conference table, and accompanying seats – seemed new, barely used, and no more than one step away from IKEA. It was a launchpad for the project, nothing more. It was as if its sole purpose was to exist, to have a presence, to tell the townspeople that Anadolu was there to stay.
Zafer ushered us in with a charming smile. The Gerze native comes from a prominent family in the town — his father was Gerze’s leading doctor. Zafer left to become a mechanical engineer, and has worked for the last three decades on energy platforms in Libya, Russia, and Qatar, to name just a few of the countries. When he got wind that a power plant would be built next to his native town, he contacted Anadolu to ask to be involved with the project.
“There is no question the plant will be built,” said Zafer. He gave us a brief tour of the 2 billion dollar piece of infrastructure, focusing on the environmental features. The plant will operate with a supercritical boiler, which essentially means the steam is at higher pressure and is more efficient. Emissions then pass through scrubbers for Ash, Sulfur, and other emissions. “What’s left?” exclaimed Zafer. “Carbon Dioxide. But that is not the problem of Turkey. That is the problem of the United States, China, Germany, Russia—countries that emit much more than we do.” Most such supercritical plants operate at 36 to 38 percent efficiency, a number which refers to the amount of chemical energy in the coal that is converted to electricity. Zafer boasts that this plant could achieve rates as high as 44 percent. But this is speculative – no one will know for sure until the plant is built and operating.
The engineer has reasons to be confident that the energy factory will move forward. The company is in the final rounds of a process that takes years. “During the first round, most of the applications are rejected,” said Zafer. “But once it is accepted, 98 percent of the projects are built.” The company is certainly in position to begin a major project. The Anadolu Group has purchased 50 percent, or 400,000 hectares, of the land they will need to build the plant. The rest will be purchased by the government at a fixed price when the application clears. Zafer himself, and the engineers we met at the Gercek office, are also indications that the company has started throwing well-qualified man power at the project. To top it off, the group has started accepting applications, and more than 500 have been submitted. The company claims that 90 percent of those originate from the Gerze area. Zafer’s phone rang constantly during interviews. After one of the calls, he said “people call all the time, saying ‘Zafer, do you have work?’. They’re free to call me whenever they want, because of course, I need them to.”
Holding the forward march of the plant is ÇED report, (pronounced CHED), an 1800 page behemoth that documents the environmental impact the plant might have. It covers everything you can imagine, from studies of nearby archaeological sites to fish breeding grounds near the site.
The ÇED didn’t clear, because of concerns from the Ministry of Forestry, and the nearby 789 hectare Sarikum nature reserve. Protesters celebrated as the government gave the company only ten days to fix their mistakes.
But then the government backtracked. After the Anadolu Group declared that the time was insufficient, the government signed an agreement that allowed the company to finish the documents “as soon as possible.”
The ÇED has since been resubmitted, and is now awaiting government clearance. Ugur Tuzin, an Anadolu spokesman said “we have no idea how long this will take, but it takes a long time here in Turkey. It’s in the government’s hands now.” If the documents are complete, however, there are normally few hitches in their approval. “It is very rare that the ministry rejects ÇEDs,” said Baturay Altınok, an attorney for the Chamber of Environmental Engineers, told to the newspaper Today’s Zaman.
As the formalities fall into place, Zafer’s confidence is buttressed by a local economy in shambles. Over the course of the last 20 years, the region has been stripped of all its economic keystones. Anchovy and Mackerel fisheries began to collapse when the Berlin Wall did, primarily from overfishing and environmental contamination. Tobacco farming, once the chief cash crop, was eliminated in the late 90’s with changes to United States import regulations and US subsidies to their own farmers. The region also had a match factory, and a large US radar base in Sinop. Both of these are gone. “This is a sleeping city,” said Zafer. According to Hale, Gerze and the surrounding region subsists primarily off the nearly 1 million Turks with roots there visiting home and supporting family members.
Sinem Hazar, 30, was one of the 500 applicants to the power plant, where she hoped to work as a security guard. Her husband, Cengir, had also applied to be a driver. She had been looking for a job for months, and hopes that the power plant will provide new opportunites to the community. In the meantime, Sinem and Cengir live off the 1000 liras a month that Cengir earns at a mobile phone store. Neither has access to social security. “Almost all my friends have difficulty finding jobs. Some find them, but they are also underpaid and not on social security.”
But even with the knowledge of a local economy desperate for jobs, most of Zafer’s swagger comes from his support in Ankara. “The government is very interested in this project,” he said while we had dinner on the roof of his four star hotel. It has reason to be. According to the project’s website, the power plant would supply nearly four percent of Turkey’s electricity once it is built. Along with two small hydroelectric projects, its construction would make Anadolu the fourth largest energy producer in Turkey, a market that was only opened to the private sector in 1991. To keep pace with the country’s energy demand, 4000 MW of power production needs to be built every year, to reach a 100 GW target by 2020- a doubling of today’s numbers. It’s no accident the army showed up with the construction equipment last August and September.
The Leaders of the Opposition
YEGEP knows why Zafer is confident, and has few illusions as to what they are up against. They are working frantically; the ÇED report waiting game has not slowed the pace of their efforts. At the site of the September 5th protests, we were invited to sit in on one of the organization’s weekly meetings. “Lucky for you” Şengül said with a grin. “You’ll be here for our Tuesday gathering.”
Given that YEGEP and Anadolu have been pitted against each other at every turn, it seemed only appropriate that Şengül’s meeting place would be the total antithesis of Zafer’s immaculate, plasma screen filled office. We managed to hitch a ride up to spot in Yaykil with a group of high school students from Istanbul, who said they were in the area to teach kids in Gerze about human rights and critical thinking.
Even from the window of the van, YEGEP’s meeting spot was hard to miss. A large bonfire raged just beside the road, sparking up each time one of the villagers piled on another branch of dried leaves. The flames created an ominous temperament — casting its low, flickering light over a nearby shack that YEGEP uses as a guardhouse. The group told us they man the building 24/7 to prevent the Anadolu Group from entering the Coal Plant site. With a sheet metal roof, the building was barely large enough to fit a couple sagging couches and a table wedged tightly between them, but clearly it was in use often; it contained two of the essential hallmarks of Turkish occupancy – a satellite television and a chai kettle. Plastered across its walls were the familiar, colored protest banners we’d seen in the YEGEP office. No to Efes Pilsen. No to McDonalds. Save Yaykil.
To the left of the guardhouse, we could see silhouettes of a sizable gathering — exactly 57 people in number. Most of the participants were older, probably past their 50’s, and seated in plastic chairs in a single, wide circle. Occasionally, some of them would rise to grab food from serving trays of homemade pastries, meat dishes, and vegetables that were set upon long tables in front of the guardhouse. But most barely moved; they were listening intently to their emphatic leader. Even in the low light, there was no mistaking Şengül’s hoarse voice, which, when she got worked up, sounded as if it was on the verge of cracking. The crowd murmured and nodded their heads in agreement.
We turned to Onur, one of the high school students from Istanbul, and asked what was being said.
“They’re planning more community events” he explained.
The previous day, we had seen YEGEP unfurl a 10 foot banner from the sidelines of a handball match. The activists were now planning similar small demonstrations to maintain their community presence in Gerze. This, we learned, was pretty much all the organization could do for the time being.
“Now, we’re just waiting to hear that the ÇED report has been rejected” Şengül told us. “We’re absolutely confident it will not pass – I mean how can it? It’s illegal.”
Like the Anadolu Group, YEGEP has placed all their chips on the report’s legal process in Ankara.
“Usually the ÇED is quite easy to pass, but look at how long this has already taken them [the Anadolu Group].” Şengül pointed out.
We questioned whether the Anadolu Group could do anything without the ÇED’s approval. She told us they could not. So why then, we wondered, did YEGEP still guard the construction site 24/7? “Well, what else would you do in our situation?” she challenged.
Her uneasy response seemed to validate our feeling that YEGEP is less sure of the ÇED’s outcome than their rhetoric made them appear. While they say the ÇED will not pass, the tense meeting, and the 24 hour guarding of the construction site seemed to indicate otherwise. Their actions lacked the swagger of Zafer.
At the end of the meeting, the group disbanded by singing their protest anthem, chanting “Out out Anadolu Grupu!” During this time, we had a chance to speak with Yaykil’s mayor. When we asked him what he thought about the ÇED, he suggested we speak with his ally – the mayor of Gerze – who had attended Ankara in person to voice his opposition. We set a meeting for the next day.