Contentious Dam Begins Power Generation

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Originally published in the South China Morning Post

A new dam on the Lancang River in southern Yunnan province started
power production amid environmental concerns and scepticism from
countries on the lower reaches of the waterway, also known as the
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The announcement by China Huaneng Group, the investor in the 12.3<br />
billion yuan (HK$13.95 billion) hydroelectric project, coincided with<br />
an appeal by dozens of mainland scientists and environmentalists for<br />
the government to suspend the approval of big dams in the quake-prone<br />
southwest, especially in the wake of the Sichuan disaster.</p>
<p>A major earthquake struck the region on May 12, killing almost 80,000<br />
<p>Xinhua said last Thursday that one of three generating units of the<br />
Jinghong power station, named after the capital city of the<br />
Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous region near the border with Myanmar, had<br />
come into operation.</p>
<p>The power plant, with a capacity of 1,750 MW, will be fully<br />
operational next year, China Huaneng chief executive Na Xizhi said.</p>
<p>It is the largest power plant to be completed in Yunnan and the third<br />
dam built on the Lancang River, which flows from the mountains of<br />
Tibet through five countries besides China – Myanmar, Laos, Thailand,<br />
Cambodia and Vietnam, to the South China Sea.</p>
<p>A further 12 dams are being constructed or have been planned on the<br />
river, with a total installed capacity of 25,200 MW, including mega<br />
dams such as the Xiaowan and the Nuozhadu with a planned installed<br />
capacity of 4,200 MW and 5,000 MW respectively. The Jinghong plant was<br />
the mainland’s first joint venture with a foreign country.</p>
<p>Thailand is helping to develop the power plant and will be the primary<br />
consumer of electricity generated by the dam, according to media<br />
<p>The two countries have also been building a 1,070km power line linking<br />
Jinghong to Bangkok to be completed in 2013.</p>
<p>Conservationist Yu Xiaogang voiced concerns over the environmental<br />
impact of the project, which cuts through the Xishuangbanna national<br />
reserve. But the project has received support from the country’s top<br />
environmental watchdog, according to Professor Yu.</p>
<p>Like other dam projects built or planned in Yunnan and Sichuan, it has<br />
been sold as an economic engine in the underdeveloped region, aimed at<br />
easing the chronic energy shortage in coastal areas.</p>
<p>But scientists and green groups have fiercely criticised the feverish<br />
dam-building in the region, warning against environmental and<br />
geological hazards.</p>
<p>In an open letter issued last week, experts noted that Sichuan and<br />
Yunnan, the heart of the mainland’s  hydropower programme, have seen<br />
the most earthquakes in the country. In the wake of the deadly quake<br />
last month, which wrecked or damaged more than 2,000 dams, they called<br />
for a thorough review of plans to build more dams in geologically<br />
unstable areas.</p>
<p>The harnessing of the international river has been particularly<br />
controversial as people in countries downstream have voiced growing<br />
concerns over China’s ambitious hydropower development plans.</p>
<p>Complaints about irregular water levels and reduced fish stocks have<br />
been commonplace since the completion of the first two dams on the<br />
Lancang, the Manwan in 1995 and the Dachaoshan in 2003.</p>
<p>But Beijing has insisted the projects would not harm the interests of<br />
downstream countries, saying conservation areas would be built for<br />
fish and citing benefits such as shipping, flood control and tourism<br />
<p>Zhang Guobao , deputy director of the National Development and Reform<br />
Commission and chief of its energy bureau, said: “The Chinese<br />
developers have paid great attention to the trans-border impact of<br />
hydropower development from the very beginning, carried out research<br />
on potential ecological impact and took into consideration the<br />
interest of areas along the upper and lower reaches of Lancang River.”</p>
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