Wind-power farms 'vanity projects'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 March, 2010, 12:00am

Environmentalists worldwide have praised China as a leading harnesser of the wind for electricity, but a vice-minister says most of the ventures in the country were 'vanity projects' - all for show.

Miao Wei, of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, also said on Sunday that one particular project that is backed by the country's top economic planner would have a 'fatal result' in five years because of the sand that came with the dry wind.

Miao made the rare open criticism at a National People's Congress session that the country was unsuitable for developing wind power, according to the Beijing Times, a newspaper owned by the People's Daily.

'Most of the wind-power farms under construction on the mainland are vanity projects,' the newspaper quoted Miao, who is ranked third among the ministry's seven vice-ministers, as saying.

He said other countries built their wind farms in places that had no dust or sand, but it was impossible to find such ideal locations on the mainland. Wherever the wind blows in the country, sand prevails.

The sand clogs the expensive rotating arms and power generators, which were precision-engineered products. By design, a generator, for instance, can run for 20 years. But on the mainland, the lifespan of wind-power equipment will be much shorter.

'You will see the fatal result in five years, especially the vanity project in Gansu ,' Miao said.

The Gansu project, launched in 2008, was hailed as a flagship project and strongly supported by the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees the industry and infrastructural development of the country.

The farm was expected to produce 20,000 megawatts of power by 2020 - as much as the Three Gorges Dam project - at an estimated cost of 120 billion yuan (HK$136 billion). The NDRC has already planned six more wind farms of the same scale.

But Miao's criticism indicated that even within the circle of senior government officials, opinions varied over whether the government should invest such a huge amount of taxpayers' money in the industry.

Wang Huisheng, the president of the State Development and Investment Corp, said yesterday some locations of wind farms on the mainland were indeed unsuitable.

'The equipment does not fit the environment, and the investment return is poor,' Mr Wang said.

But Miao's comments met opposition within the industry. A senior manager in charge of renewable energy development at the Beijing headquarters of a Fortune 500 energy company said his comments would not slow the rapid development of wind farms.

'This guy knows little about wind-power technology. Scientists and engineers have been working on the sand and dust issue for decades. The problem exists but is far less severe than he said,' said the manager, who refused to give his name, citing company policy.

'Above all, his ministry is not in charge of the development of wind power. The commission is in charge, and the officials of the commission are very powerful and determined. They won't be affected by his comments.'