China Energy Industry

As Wen Jiabao departs, China’s dam plans to accelerate

(November 21, 2012) As populist Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao prepares to retire,  China’s new leadership is already looking at an aggressive plan to ramp up hydro capacity, as part of its ambitious 2020 energy goals. Under Wen, whose common touch earned him the nickname ‘Grandpa Wen,’ a number of projects were shelved, including a series of dams on Yunnan’s untouched, UNESCO-protected Nu River – this is now slated for construction. The following Reuters report, by David Stanway, looks at the prospect of a renewed dam push in a country already struck by development fever. A tough sell, he notes, as an increasingly affluent middle-class – also the drivers of China’s consumption boom – push back against China’s “growth at all costs” economic model.

By David Stanway, Reuters, November 18, 2012

BEIJING (Reuters) – The number of new hydropower projects in China could surge as the country’s populist premier Wen Jiabao retires and a new leadership team races to meet ambitious 2020 energy goals.

Dam building slowed considerably under Wen, who personally intervened to block hydropower projects and avoid the potential for protest from local populations. Projects such as the $59 billion Three Gorges Dam have been the focus of criticism over the social and environmental cost China is paying for development.

More dams could be a tough sell as an increasingly affluent public pushes back against a “growth at all costs” economic model. As China’s new leaders consider how to power expansion, however, they have little choice but to push ahead with hydropower given that alternatives like coal or nuclear fueled power may be even less palatable to the population.

“It isn’t that hydropower is the best choice — it is the only choice,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Centre of Energy Economics in Xiamen.

“Not everyone agrees with hydropower and especially when it comes to building big dams there are a lot of conflicts and we need to be conservative when considering the impact on the environment, but China has no other option.”

The government aims to boost total power capacity by nearly a half to 1,500 gigawatts by 2020, up from 1,060 GW at the end of last year, while cutting coal consumption and limiting growing dependence on expensive gas imports.

The scale of the task is massive. The increase is roughly equivalent to adding Russia and India’s total combined power generation capacity.

This article is continued in full, here.

To understand why Lin Boqiang, director of the China Centre of Energy Economics, is wrong to claim that hydro power is China’s only choice, see the following:

China’s great leap backward

Dam madness

The Yangtze runs dry

Big hydro in the red: the drive for DE-friendly reform in China

Environment officials claim hydroelectric power is dirtier than thermal power, not a clean solution at all

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

Whispering a dirty secret: Chinese officials set to speed up construction of dams

China’s power sector revolution stalled

Powering 21st Century Cambodia with Decentralized Generation: A Primer for Rethinking Cambodia’s Electricity Future

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