In August 2011 the Georgian authorities made statements about the plans to launch the construction of a hydroelectric PP (the Namakhvani HPP Cascade) on the Rioni River, in a seismic active region in the areas of the towns of Tskaltubo and Tsageri.
On that occasion, The NGO Green Alternative and 47 other individuals, associations, and organizations released a statement that was critical of the way the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) has been conducted. Not only, the NGO argued, did the ESIA report not provide comprehensive and reliable information about what impact the project will have on the local population, natural environment and generally, on the region; but a great part of environmental and social impacts either were not studied at all (for example, health impacts, waste management, impact on micro-climate, climate change impacts, cumulative impacts, agro-biodiversity, etc.) or were studied and analyzed insufficiently (impact on flora and fauna, protected areas, forest ecosystems) . They called on international financial institutions to impose a moratorium on the construction of large dams in the country, including on financing Namakhvani HPP Cascade, unless the national strategy for the development of Georgia’s energy sector is developed with broad public involvement .
In April 2019, Turkish engineering company ENKA and Norway’s Clean Energy Group won the rights to build, own and operate the Namakhvani project via a Georgian government tender . In October 2020, Economy Minister, Natia Turnava, visiting the plant’s construction site, and, after stating the plant would provide Georgia with 12% of its electric energy needs once completed, also mentioned that 370 jobs had already been created for local population, and that in the future, around 1,600 citizens would be employed for the project. The construction was being carried out by the Turkish company ENKA . In November, two short documentaries about the Rioni Valley and its unique ecosystem were released by the Land-Water project. The protagonist of the film, Maka Suladze, is one of the three women who, in addition to participating in protests, had been protesting in court against the permit to build the Namakhvani HPP . On 22 November, opponents of the plant gathered outside the offices of ENKA Renewables in Zhoneti, a village 20 kilometres north of the capital of Imereti region, Kutaisi, and demanded that the company drop their plans to construct the dam . Meanwhile, part of the protesters camped in tents in Namakhvani village, Tskaltubo Municipality, near the HPP site (where they would remain for months) to obstruct the construction process. The works resumed in January, leading since to more clashes with the police. On 23 February, clashes occurred between the police and local activists as protesters tried to prevent the equipment from entering the construction site . On 28 February 2021, while ENKA launched an informational website of the benefits that would accrue from the plant , a further demonstration took place: thousands gathered in downtown Kutaisi, a key western Georgian city, to protest against the construction of the dam . With the movement having garnered significant popular support, the government deployed economy minister Natia Turnava and environmental protection minister Levan Davitashvili to meet the activists to hear their concerns. But their talks came to an abrupt end on March 5 after representatives of the Save the Rioni Gorge Movement claimed the government had no real intention of meeting any of its demands .
In March, a briefing from the Social Justice Center argued that the agreement between the government and ENKA Renewables made it clear that the project would not contribute to the energy security of the country, and furthermore, imply heavy and indefinite fiscal burdens on the country's budget . In the same month, on March 15, the city of Kutaisi hosted its second massive rally against the construction of the dam. Save the Rioni Gorge, a public movement leading the calls against the HPP, vowed to step up its demonstrations if the Georgian government does not halt construction .
Supporters of the project argued that the project’s dangers had been overstated, and Executive director of the Georgian Renewable Energy Development Association (GREDA), Giorgi Abramishvili, said the risks associated with construction of the HPP had already been studied comprehensively during the Soviet era, adding that “not much has changed geologically in the Rioni Gorge since” .
Early in May, however, Minister Turnava announced that the construction of the plant and dam would be suspended for the next 12 months, clarifying that major studies would be re-verified and validated in that time . Despite the moratorium, protestors from the tent camp in Namakhvan, headed by Varlam Goletiani, planned a protest in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on 23 May, and promised not to disperse until the government suspends the plant project . They demanded the termination of the government’s contract with ENKA, a moratorium on similar projects until a coordinated energy policy is developed, and launched probes against officials involved in drafting and signing the document, including Minister Turnava . The protest ended on 26 May, when the protestors returned to the Namakhvani tent camp . No information is available on possible negotiations between the government and protesters, which resulted in this outcome. During the protest, rumours had the government spread false information on the protestors to discredit them .
In September, ENKA Renewables terminated its contract with the State of Georgia, which meant the HPP would not be built. According to a company statement, the reason for the decision is a violation of the terms of the contract and a force majeure . Roughly a year later, three environmental NGOs – namely, Association Green Alternative, Nature Conservation Georgia, and CEE Bankwatch Network – presented the Council of Europe with a document titled “Possible threat to Rioni River from the Namakhvani Hydropower Project (Georgia)”. In the document, they emphasized that, while the company had withdrawn from the project, it had not conducted any conservation or/and restoration works on the ground. Due to resulting geological dynamics, according to locals, rainwater was flushing existing roads and activating landslides, making movement on existing roads dangerous. The NGOs also argued that the government was neither involving itself nor requesting Enka to restore safe conditions on the road . In January next year, a study from the Heinrich Böll Foundation appeared on the potential for the emergence and self-creation of a new political citizenship in the context of the Rioni Valley protest .