Thursday, January 19, 2012

China urges hydropower developers to heed environment, must "put ecology first"

China urges hydropower developers to heed environment
BEIJING | Tue Jan 17, 2012 3:17am EST

Jan 17 (Reuters) - China's hydropower developers must "put ecology
first" and pay strict attention to the impact of their projects on local
rivers and communities, the country's environment ministry said on
Tuesday, as the country embarks on another dam-building boom.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a notice posted on its
website ( that projects should be planned
"comprehensively" and must pay attention to "economic and ecological
benefits, local and overall interests (as well as) immediate and
long-term interests."

It ordered developers to make sure that residents affected by hydropower
development are fully informed and given a role to play in the
decision-making process, and stressed that building dams in protected
zones remains prohibited.

The ministry's intervention comes in the wake of a controversial
decision to reduce the size of a protected nature reserve in southwest
China's Chongqing in order to allow the construction of the massive
30-billion yuan ($4.75 billion)Xiaonanhai hydropower plant on the
Yangtze River.

The size of the reserve was already reduced in 2005 to make way for the
Jinsha hydropower plant, currently being built by the Three Gorges
Project Corp.

"It is the last freshwater wildlife reserve on the Yangtze, but even
with the legal protection, it is still a strong possibility that it will
be dammed," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and
Environmental Affairs.

"That by itself demonstrates how far the dam builders like the Three
Gorges Project Corporation want to move forward."

China's hydropower building boom slowed considerably following the
completion of the controversial 185-metre Three Gorges Dam in 2005, with
regulators unwilling to approve new construction plans amid concerns
about environmental risks and massive relocation costs.

Regulators vetoed controversial plans to dam the Nu River and the Tiger
Leaping Gorge, two ecologically fragile zones in southwestern China's
Yunnan province.

Over the 2006-2010 period, around 50 gigawatts of hydropower capacity
went into operation out of a total 77 GW originally planned, according
to Zhang Boting, vice-secretary general of the China Hydropower Society.

A cabinet session last May chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, who has been
critical of hydropower development, also admitted the Three Gorges
project had caused serious social and environmental problems that needed
to be urgently addressed.

But with new nuclear reactor construction suspended as a result of last
year's disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan, analysts say big hydro
is back in favour as the government tries to meet a pledge to increase
the share of non-fossil fuel energy to at least 16 percent of the total
by 2020.

China's hydropower capacity stood at 230 gigawatts by the end of 2011,
22 percent of the total, and another 55 GW are now under construction,
according to figures issued by the National Energy Administration last week.

Zhang of the China Hydropower Society said 120 GW of new hydro capacity
was likely to be built over the 2011-2015 period. ($1 = 6.3165 yuan)
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Ken Wills)

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