Slow approval of hydro projects seen holding back clean-energy bid

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 April, 2010, 12:00am

If Beijing does not speed up approvals for hydropower projects it may not meet its clean-energy goals for 2020, the China Electricity Council says.

Approvals for new investments in hydropower have slowed in the face of increasing demands for compensation from villagers who need to be resettled and amid concerns about protecting cultural heritage and the environment.

In a quarterly industry review, the council, which represents all the major power producers, said the central government had in recent years approved new hydropower projects with a total capacity of just over 10 gigawatts (GW) - equivalent to half that of the giant Three Gorges Dam project. None of them were large-scale projects, it said.

Of China's 574GW of technically exploitable hydropower capacity, 70 per cent is from rivers in Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet. Work has begun on one large-scale project - the controversial damming of the Yarlung Zangbo river in Tibet, which flows into India, where it is called the Brahmaputra, and where tens of millions of people depend on its waters. India fears damming the river would reduce downstream flows. The project involves five dams which, if completed, would generate more than twice as much power as the Three Gorges Dam. However, experts warn the area is prone to earthquakes.

'Projects under construction will basically be completed by 2015, but if in the future [we] can't maintain a reasonable pipeline of new large-scale hydropower projects, we will enter a low period in terms of the amount of new plant start-ups between 2015 and 2020,' the report said. 'It will be difficult to meet the 2020 or 2030 development targets.' This would affect the goal of meeting 15 per cent of primary energy demand from non-fossil fuels by 2020.

China is the world's biggest producer of hydroelectric power, with output last year of 574.7 billion kilowatt hours, accounting for 15.7 per cent of all the power it produced nationwide. China consumed 58 per cent more hydropower than the next biggest user, Canada.

Meanwhile, the council said the drought in the southwest had seen the hydropower sector lose 900 million yuan (HK$1.02 billion) in the first two months of the year. The industry-wide loss is the first since 2007 and compares with a profit of 1 billion yuan in the year-earlier period.

However, some power generators appeared not too concerned. 'Although water flow in the first quarter was lower than last year, from a historical perspective rainfall distribution tends to even out on a full-year basis,' said Gu Zhengxing, a general manager with Wu Ling Power.

Power by numbers

At the end of last year, the mainland's hydropower capacity stood at: 197GW

Of its total generating capacity, this accounts for: 22.5%

The amount still under construction is: 67GW

By 2020, the government aims to raise capacity to: 300GW