Hotels, baths deprive nation's first geothermal plant of hot water

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am

China's first geothermal power station, which uses hot springs to generate electricity, could be shut down because hotels and public baths have been tapping the area's thermal spring resources at a furious rate.

The geothermal power station in Meizhou's Fengshun township, in eastern Guangdong, was built in 1970 and used to generate 4,000 kilowatts every day.

But more than 100 hotels, boarding houses and public baths - all offering unlimited hot spring bathing services - now pose a threat to its continued operation.

The power station now pumps 5,000 tonnes of hot water a day, but can generate just 1,000 kilowatts of electricity, due to a shortage of hot spring water.

A deputy chief from the county's land resources bureau said a single four-star luxury hotel uses more than 2,000 tonnes of underground hot spring water every day.

Last year, 510,000 holidaymakers visited the township, with 400,000 coming for the hot spring. The four-star hotel sold some 170,000 admission tickets for its hot spring baths.

But none of the profitable hot spring operators, all pumping hot water without restraint, have applied for a licence from the authorities. The township government says it's difficult to manage hot spring sources because both the water resources and land resources bureaus have administrative rights, causing confusion.

The mainland does not have any laws regulating the exploitation of hot spring resources and similar problems are being seen in other parts of the country.

Experts have suggested that hot spring water pumped from underground, usually at 90 degrees Celsius, could be used to generate electricity before being offered to hotels and public baths.

State media reports say that Guangdong ranks third in the country in terms of geothermal resources, with some 300 hot springs discovered so far, offering a daily thermal spring capacity of more than 570,000 tonnes of water.