Lamma Island

Power to the people

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 12:00am

When it comes to power in Hong Kong, the cynical look to big business and the all-encompassing housing and telecommunication giants that control every aspect of where and how we live. Human-rights watchdogs say look north, to the political machinations that go on behind the gates of Zhongnanhai in Beijing. For immediate satisfaction, and a steaming cup of pu-er, however, peer west, to the clanking mini-metropolis that is the Hongkong Electric Company's power station on Lamma.

Located at Po Lo Tsui, just around the coast from Yung Shue Wan, Lamma's most noticeable landmark is small as power stations go, covering just 50 hectares. Amazingly it satisfies all Hong Kong Island's electricity needs, which double in the summer owing to the demand for air conditioning. Still, sleepy Lamma's greenies complain the station is a vile eyesore, that it takes up too much space needed for scrub and venomous snakes. But then, if the complainers hadn't nagged at the time of its establishment in 1982, perhaps the monstrosity would have taken over the entire island.

The coal-fired station is gradually expanding, however. It's two 215-metre chimneys (that once earned it the nickname Twin Peaks) became three when an additional stack appeared in 1996. Today, the station 'has a total installed capacity of 3,305MW with eight coal-fired units and seven gas turbines', says HEC. The jetty for coal delivery, always by ship, is 600 metres long. The boilers produce pulverised fuel ash roughly in the proportion of 20 per cent clinker ash, which falls to the bottom of the boiler, to 80 per cent fly ash, most of which is removed by an electrostatic process far too complicated to explain in just 600 words.

Deep inside there are 500 trillion sweating, caged hamsters whirring around on carbon-fibre wheels ... yes, that was thrown in to wake you up from the HEC's boring geek speak. But there are 500 wheels whirring around in there somewhere. They are attached to the 250 or so bicycles that about 1,000 workers use to nip around the site, which is set to grow: in 2001, the Government granted HEC an extension to the south. The 22 hectares needed will be reclaimed from the sea and will connect with the existing station via bridges.

Happily for the greenies a new unit, planned for 2004, will be powered by clean liquified natural gas (LNG). It will be shipped in from Western Australia's North West Shelf gas fields, turned into gaseous form at a terminal in Shenzhen and piped to Hong Kong.

Alan Fretwell, the station's chief engineer, says future units will be LNG, and the others will be retired. But that would be more than 20 years away. 'Lamma Power Station is actually one of the most environmentally friendly in the world in terms of coal-firing,'' he says.

HEC, by the way, is one of the world's oldest power companies. It started operations at 6pm on December 1, 1890, powering the first streetlights and throwing a few scattered beams over gloomy Central. The company's first power station was in Wan Chai. It was closed in 1922 after complaints from Mid-Levels residents about pollution. Strange how some things never change.

Most interesting of all, the Lamma station soaks up a full 10 per cent of all the electricity it generates. So when the gurning greenies are slumped in the sand at another Power Station beach party, fumbling to roll ... let's say an art-student's cigarette ... they all must agree: the light it sheds on the important subject at hand is most welcome.