Dams and Landslides

China to usher in a “golden decade” for hydro power sector

(January 19, 2011) As China rushes to meet lofty goals to cut carbon emissions, officials say the country’s hydropower sector will experience a “golden decade.”

China’s controversial and vastly over budget Three Gorges dam has been a disaster for the millions of residents forced to move for its construction, as well as the region’s environment, which has suffered from landslides, sinkholes and a polluted reservoir. Now, according to one official, over the coming decade, the country’s citizens will have to contend with the equivalent of a new Three Gorges being built every year, as officials look to meet top-down mandates on “green” energy.

According to a recent report, the coming years will be a “golden decade” for the hydropower sector, as China ramps up construction of dams after having slowed it down in recent years in the wake of environmental and social criticism.

Chinese officials plan to have 430 gigawatts(GW) of hydropower capacity by 2020—surpassing an earlier target of 380GW, according to a report in the China Securities Journal.

The report says a revision of targets in the country’s current 12th Five-Year Plan calls for the country to increase construction of conventional hydropower plants by about a third to 83GW and to raise the construction of pumped-storage hydro-capacity by 60 percent to 80GW.

Currently, hydropower accounts for 200GW of power-generation capacity in China, or about a fifth of the country’s total.

Shao Minghui, an analyst at China Post Securities, says the new hydropower targets will result in a 900 billion yuan ($136 billion) investment by 2020—140 billion yuan of this will be spent on equipment.

The new energy targets come as the Chinese government failed to complete previous plans for hydropower. As part of its 11th Five Year Plan it planned on installing 70GW of hydropower, but because of escalating social and environmental costs, was only able to install 20GW.

But in recent months, officials appear to have overcome their concerns about dams and have given the go-ahead to a number of projects that were supposedly suspended.

According to a report from Reuters, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently gave the green light to China Three Gorges Power Corp (CTGPC) to move forward with studies of the 8.7GW Wudongde and 14GW Baihetan hydropower projects.

In July, the NDRC “formally” approved construction of the 2.4GW Jin’anqiao hydropower project—although critics say construction had been ongoing without the government’s consent. While touring the middle Jinsha River (where the Jin’anqiao dam is located) in April of 2009, Liu Jianxiang, a leading Chinese environmentalist and journalist, accompanied by a group of citizens, discovered several dams being built illegally.

The NDRC also approved construction of China Huadian Corp’s 2.16GW Ludila and China Huaneng Group’s 1.7GW Longkaikou dams. As with the Jin’anqiao dam, critics say construction of Ludila and Longkaikou had proceeded without proper environmental assessment and without receiving the necessary approval from central government officials.

The government’s push for hydropower comes after a pledge in 2009 by officials at the UN Copenhagen climate change conference to cut carbon intensity by between 40 percent and 45 percent by 2020, using 2005 levels as the base. In order to fulfil that promise, officials proposed to ramp up the county’s hydro and nuclear capacity to account for nine percent and four percent respectively of the nation’s proportion of non-fossil fuel energy.

Zhang Boting, a vice secretary general of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, is encouraging agencies to speed up the approval process in order to meet the new targets. The agencies are already taking note, with the China Electricity Council—representing the nation’s power producers—confirming last month that the floodgates for new dams are open and the sector will receive priority status over the next five years.

Mountainous provinces in the Southwest, such as Yunnan and Sichuan, will be at the heart of the new shift towards hydropower, says Ouyang Changyu, vice secretary general of the council. Both of those regions are also seismically active, with Sichuan having been rocked by an earthquake in 2008 registering eight on the Richter scale. Many critics say that Sichuan’s 2008 earthquake may have been triggered by the nearby Zipingpu dam.

Brady Yauch, Probe International, January 19, 2011

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