The Tarniţa project – a synthesis of administrative inability

The Tarnița project dates back to the 1930s and was rewritten according to the technologies from the middle of the 1970s by extremely capable engineers. It was then when it was realized that such a project would need about seven years to be built. Recalled by almost each minister in the pas few decades, the project found its way into the investment speech of the new minister of Energy, who mentioned the pumping hydroelectric power plant in Tarnița among the great investment objective in the energy sector.

The need to build certain energy storage projects is substantiated by the fact that they would reduce offer volatility and possibly that of prices on the OPCOM market. While certain specialists still see the hydro-pumping power plant in Tarnița as an optimal solution for storage, others claim that the global electricity market is going through a transition period toward a stage with low carbon emissions, and the battery-based technologies applicable at network level provide reliable alternatives to conventional power plants and hydropower pumping storage projects with the purpose of covering peak consumption.

“The vision of the Energy Strategy is to develop the energy sector in terms of sustainability. And energy sector development means building new capacities and bringing up to date the existing capacities with regards to energy production, transmission and distribution. It also means encouraging and increasing internal consumption with regards to energy efficiency and, last, but not least, electricity export”, declared minister Anton.

Essential for the system services

The United States of America already have installed energy storage capacities of over 1,000 MWh, and in 2018, this volume is anticipated to double. In Romania, investments in storage are quasi-existent, according to specialists. “For now, we are heading nowhere. Romania does not have a unitary approach at sector policy level that will encourage storage projects. Therefore, there are only pilot projects, precise, completely insufficient if we take into consideration the available capacity”, argues Ovidiu Demetrescu, former director of the project company for Hydro Tarnița.

There are two solutions which are preferred and are more advanced at global level: the pumping hydro projects and the battery projects. “With respect to the thermal energy part, there are technological storage solutions with very few heat losses, over 24 hour intervals, in high-capacity reservoirs. There are two great advantages: the functioning cycles of existing installations are optimized and then, the extremely high price differences between peak and off peak (peak and low load) are leveled. As such, the exacerbated volatility on the energy markets decreases in the short and medium term. It is a great shame that, currently, we do not understand that we need to prioritize such projects”, Demetrescu added.

“All storage technologies must be analyzed and studied by researchers! Out of about eight technologies, at least three must be used in Romania, each of them having its place and role on the load curve”, argues Calin Vilt, scientific advisor within the CNR-CME. Vilt believes that “the Tarnița project is a ‘must do’ (of absolute necessity), it being necessary for the system services for DEN (National Energy Dispatch). The batteries are also necessary within the micro-grid concept”, added Vilt.

Tarnița is the answer to the new energy realities

A lot of people justify this project as an addition to the that of the 3 and 4 reactors at Cernavodă. The idea was valid 30 years ago, stated Demetrescu. “Today, such a storage project is more than necessary as a counterweight to the capacity installed in Romania in wind and photovoltaic solar parks. A correct counterweight, somewhere around 1,000 MW, that is a fifth of these intermittent functioning plants, would be somewhat reasonable for the electro-energy system to function at the best parameters”, stated Demetrescu.

In turn, the former chief of the State Privatization Office (OPSPI), Gabriel Dumitrașcu, argues that even though the construction of the pumping hydropower plant at Tarnița has been considered an essential investment for the optimization of the functioning regimes of the national energy system (SEN) and a priority for the national electro-energy system for over 30 years, “the epopee of this project is a synthesis of administrative inability in Romania, which, even if, in principle, it has all that it needs, it does not find the practical and efficient format to create large complex projects, with a major impact upon the economy”.

Or, after integrating the wind parks within the national electro-energy system and the practical understanding of the imbalances created by unpredictable sources, in the perspective of the increase of installed nuclear capacities – which will determine a reinforcing of the system, and from the perspective of the actual connection of Romania’s energy market to the regional market – the project of the pumping hydropower plant at Tarnița is one of the answers to adapting to new realities.

“Given that the realities have changed since 10 years ago when the last revision of the feasibility study was conducted, the equipment solutions should be revised to include two variable rotation aggregates, to update the legal and regulatory framework, to economically integrate the dispatchable consumer pumping power plant type in the functional market model and to once again discuss with countries in the region and conclude commercial agreements with said countries, which will offer a greater consistency and predictability of capital flows”, proposes Dumitrașcu.

“Once these pre-requirements are fulfilled, the projects bankability would increase and it would consolidate Romania’s capacities to find the most efficient arrangement to complete an objective which would determine the increase of energy security. Equally, I expect that the project of the pumping power plant in Dobrogea, in Măcin will also be reconsidered and activated”, added the former chief of the OPSPI.

On the other hand, the former minister of Energy Victor Grigorescu believes there are more convenient alternatives when it comes to storage than the plant in Tarnița. “Tarnița is a generous project that we have been circulating for several decades, without having found an investor willing to pay the one billion euro cost. The only ones who benefited until now are the ones who performed the feasibility studies and those earning salaries from the project company. The 2016 energy strategy showed that Tarnița is expensive and that there are more convenient alternatives for Romania at the present time”, believes Grigorescu.

You can’t attract partners without a regulatory framework

Romania has not been capable of contributing with a mere 1% to the project – this is not a proof of commitment on behalf of the state, observes Ovidiu Demetrescu, adding that only the studies and preparation cost somewhere around 1 and 3%. “To attract partners and have pertinent talks, you have to contribute with at least 10%”, Demetrescu believes. Beyond the funding, there is need for promotion initiatives at sector level and establishing a storage regulatory framework.


This interview firstly appeared in the printed edition of Magazine, issued in March 2018.

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