China begins construction of first hydropower plant in controversial project
China this week began construction of the first of four major hydropower plants on an strategically-important river, in a controversial project that has raised environmental concerns.
The Xiluodu hydropower station on the Jinsha river, a tributary of the Yangtze between the southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, will have an installed capacity of 12.6 million kilowatts, the China Daily reported Wednesday.
The six-billion-dollar Xiluodu plant is slated for completion in 2015.
The Jinsha river project, including the construction of three other hydropower stations -- Xiangjiaba, Wudongde and Baihetan -- will have a combined installed capacity of 38.5 million kilowatts.
The energy output will be twice as large as the famous Three Gorges project on the Yangtze, which will be the world's biggest dam.
The 24-billion-dollar Jinsha project is part of the country's ambitious west-east electricity transmission plan, which aims to transfer power from the hydropower-rich southwest to the eastern provinces' economic powerhouses.
The Jinsha river will be dammed in 2007 for the power project, the China Daily said.
Environmentalists have argued that damming the Jinsha would do much damage to the local environment, threaten the area's distinct plants and animals and flood fertile land.
The new dams could also wipe out fish species whose migration routes to traditional breeding grounds will be blocked.
Nearly a year ago, the project's builder tried to defy an order from the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to halt construction of the dam.
The power project was among 30 large-scale projects ordered stopped by the government agency due to a lack of mandatory environmental impact assessments.
When contacted by AFP on Wednesday, SEPA declined to comment on whether the project had now passed environmental assessments.
Meanwhile, the China Daily reported that China Energy Conservation Investment Corporation, a flagship state company, will invest at least 20 billion yuan (2.5 billion dollars) over the next five years to build alternative energy projects across the country.
These projects will generate electricity using alternative energy sources such as wind, biomass -- which stems from plant and animal matter -- and waste treatment, the newspaper said.
Last month, China said it would spend about 180 billion dollars over the next 15 years to increase its use of renewable energy from the current seven percent of total output to 15 percent.
China has said it is facing an electricity crisis with its booming economy creating massive demand for energy that has already resulted in major shortages.