China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Monday, June 15, 2009

China suspends 'illegal' hydropower projects for environmental reasons

Dam construction was started without necessary ecological assessments, says ministry of environmental protection

China's environment ministry has suspended construction of two ambitious hydropower dams in the upper Yangtze river region, saying the projects were illegal because they were started without necessary environmental assessments.

The announcement, carried widely in state media today, is an unusually aggressive move by the ministry of environmental protection, whose local bureaus answer to local governments despite it being upgraded to a full ministry last year.

The dams are part of an estimated 200 billion yuan ($30 billion) project involving hydropower stations along the Jinsha river tributary in south-western China which environmentalists have said would damage the region's biodiversity.

Two large state-owned power companies, Huadian Power and Huaneng Power, started blocking the middle reaches of the river in January without approval from the ministry, it said in a notice on its website late Thursday.

"To protect the management of the environment ... and to punish the violation of the environment and illegal acts regarding the environment, the environmental ministry decided to suspend the construction projects in the middle reaches of the Jinsha River," spokesman Tao Detian said in the statement.

Tao said additional environmental reviews would be needed for the hydropower projects to go ahead.

Hydroelectric power is viewed as a relatively clean alternative to the heavily polluting coal-fired plants that are China's main source of energy. But some critics have questioned the potential environmental and social impact of so many huge projects.

The Beijing News newspaper quoted an unidentified person who works for a hydropower project at a large power company as saying it was the first time the environment ministry has responded so strongly to hydropower.

China plans to build 12 hydropower projects along the 1,423-mile (2,290km) Jinsha River that flows from northern Qinghai province to Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

The electricity output from the stations is estimated to equal the output from the massive Three Gorges Dam in central China.

Dams have big impacts on communities both upstream and downstream, and the companies should take into consideration the ecology of the Lijiang area, Tao said in the statement. Lijiang is an important tourism and trekking area in south-western China.

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