Lagobianco project

An eye for the topography

When planning power stations, you need to see how the land lies. That’s how Repower could see that the area between Lago Bianco and Lago di Poschiavo was the right place to build a pumped storage power plant.

On track for the energy future

Work on the Lagobianco project is moving ahead at all levels

Development of the Lagobianco project is in full swing: submission of the request for concession approval to the Graubünden cantonal government in November 2011 marked an important milestone in the project. A number of preliminary studies are also being carried out. For one of these studies, an exploratory tunnel has been built in Camp Martin on the south-west shore of Lago di Poschiavo, where the feasibility of an underground control centre is being examined.

Swiss project in a European context

The Lagobianco project is highly significant for Repower. But the project and its core element – a 1,000 megawatt pumped storage power plant in Upper Poschiavo – also play an important role in the European energy context. Throughout Europe, the number of photovoltaic systems and wind farms is steadily growing, a trend that will continue to intensify with the planned energy turnaround. Wind and solar power, however, is irregular and not always generated when customers need it, but when the sun shines or the wind blows. Batteries that store the electricity when there is a surplus and then supply it again when demand increases thus play a crucial role. It is precisely this function that can be assumed by pumped storage plants. In the case of Lagobianco, when there is excess power, water is pumped from Lago di Poschiavo, which is located at about 1,000 metres above sea level at the base of the valley, about 1,200 metres higher up to Lago Bianco on the Bernina Pass. When power demand increases, water flows in the opposite direction into a turbine so that power can be generated and fed into the grid. This way, the pumped storage plant adapts generation to demand, thus making a significant contribution to grid stability. This in turn strengthens Switzerland's pivotal role in Europe's energy market.

A comprehensive project

In addition to the construction of the pumped storage power plant between Lago Bianco and Lago di Poschiavo, the project also affects continuing operation of existing plants in Poschiavo. With Lagobianco, Repower is maintaining the more than 100-year tradition of hydropower generation in the valley and taking it to the next level – with a project that extends from the Bernina Pass to the Italian border. Lagobianco, however, is not only extensive from a geographic point of view: the project is also giving important economic stimulus to both Poschiavo and the entire canton of Graubünden. Strict environmental oversight during all project phases and carefully developed compensation measures also guarantee a good overall environmental footprint. The comprehensive nature of the project also encompasses cooperation with various interest groups which has characterised work on the project since the very outset. Repower worked together, for example, with representatives of environmental organisations, the Fisheries Association and local and cantonal authorities to develop the project. At the same time, the people living in the concession municipalities Poschiavo, Pontresina and Brusio were regularly kept up to date on the status of the project at informational events.

An important milestone

Collaboration with various interest groups continued successfully on the project in 2011. After the concessions were approved by the three municipalities in the autumn and winter of 2010/11 and the respective contracts were signed, the request for approval was drafted along with the relevant project documentation over the course of 2011. Environmental aspects were of central importance in this process. Therefore, one of the most important elements of the request is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Level 1. This examines the situation after construction is complete and investigates how plant operations will affect the environment. Besides the actual application and the EIS, the documentation also includes other expert opinions that analyse various environmental aspects in detail. The high level of detail is also reflected in the scope of the application documents: these span a total of more than 2,000 pages. After the documentation was completed, the request for concession approval was submitted by Repower, together with the municipalities Poschiavo, Pontresina and Brusio, to the Canton of Graubünden government at the end of November. An important milestone in the Lagobianco project was thus reached.

Exploration inside the mountain

Developing a large-scale project is a dynamic process in which different variations are constantly being tested and evaluated. The resulting findings are incorporated into ongoing planning and thus contribute to continuous project optimisation. Also in the case of Lagobianco, the goal is to identify the best possible solution for every element by carefully weighing different criteria. To this end, various kinds of preliminary work is being carried out in the project phase described here. This includes the exploratory tunnel in Camp Martin on the south-west shore of Lago di Poschiavo. Since July 2011, a team has been working to blast a tunnel approximately 250 metres long with a diameter of more than five metres. At the very back of this main tunnel, blasting work continued approximately eighty metres into a narrower, cross-tunnel until the end of the year. The idea behind the tunnel and other exploratory boreholes is to investigate whether the core element of the future pumped storage plant, the control centre, can be constructed as an underground control centre inside the mountain. The findings will also be used to define the exact route of the pressure duct through which the water will be directed with high pressure to the control centre. It was still too early to make any final conclusions on the results of the boreholes at the end of the year. Following a break to usher in the new year, work on the exploratory tunnel got underway again in the second half of January. The aim is to collect further findings on the composition of the rock so that a decision can ultimately be reached on a solid basis.

Other key decisions

Not only will the exact position of the control centre and the route of the pressure duct be determined in 2012; there are also other important activities that need to be carried out in connection with the Lagobianco project. For instance, the profitability of the project will be calculated on the basis of various models and price scenarios. These studies are particularly complex because plant operations have to be modelled over the entire 80-year duration of the concession – in an energy environment that is undergoing major change. The results of the profitability assessment are crucial to the future development of the Lagobianco project. Another important step will be the upcoming selection of suitable partners for the Lagobianco SA project company. At the same time, a decision on the request for concession approval is expected from the Canton of Graubünden government. While this request is being evaluated, Repower is preparing the documentation for the request for project approval. A team is working together with various specialists to develop solutions which will then be coordinated with the various interest groups. The request for project approval focuses on the construction phase, which is why the technical aspects will take up more room compared with the request for concession approval. An important component of the application documents, however, is also the environmental aspects with EIS Level 2. Work on project approval is moving ahead quickly so that the respective request can be submitted to the canton immediately after the concession is approved.

Interview with Roberto Ferrari, Head of the Lagobianco project

“Together we will find 360° solutions”

2011 was an important year for the Lagobianco project. What were the key events concerning this project?

There were three particularly significant moments. Following the public votes, the concession contracts were signed with the three municipalities at the turn of the year. Another important event – both audible and visible – followed in the summer as the first blast was carried out for the exploratory tunnel in Camp Martin. And finally, the submission of the request for concession approval in November was another important step forward in the Lagobianco project.

The request for concession approval is a very extensive document that took a long time to draft. How did work progress on its submission?

As with all previous work on the Lagobianco project, the documentation for the request for concession approval was drafted in close cooperation with the representatives of all interest groups involved. The entire documentation, for example, was reviewed by the various stakeholders prior to submission. This enabled their comments and suggestions to be incorporated into the documentation at an early stage.

Why is collaboration so important for the Lagobianco project?

Collaboration allows 360° solutions to be found that are ultimately backed and accepted by all parties. The focus is not on problems but rather on the search for common solutions. This collaborative and solution-oriented approach contributes a lot to positive and efficient progress.