Hy­dropower on Yangtze goes eco-friendly

En­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion trumps eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

Fiji Sun - - World News - Xinhua

Sit­ting on a trib­u­tary of China’s Yangtze River, Gangk­ouwan hy­dropower sta­tion does more than gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity.

The fa­cil­ity’s reser­voir pro­tects 36,600 hectares of farm­land, towns, vil­lages and roads from ma­jor floods. Wa­ter flow is man­aged to en­sure crops are ir­ri­gated and in line with the re­pro­duc­tion cy­cle of fish down­stream. The power sta­tion blends in well with lush plan­ta­tions nearby, clean run­ning wa­ter un­derneath and the pic­turesque moun­tain ridges on both sides.

Hy­dropower gen­er­at­ing fa­cil­i­ties along the Yangtze River are un­der­go­ing ma­jors over­hauls to make them as ecofriendly as Gangk­ouwan. If they can­not re­duce their eco­log­i­cal im­pact, they will be shut down. Their fate was made clear in a doc­u­ment on de­vel­op­ment along the Yangtze River, ap­proved ear­lier this week by China’s top lead­er­ship. In the doc­u­ment, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion trumps eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Bind­ing en­vi­ron­ment con­straints, leg­is­la­tion on river pro­tec­tion and in­cen­tives for lo­cal govern­ments are among mea­sures to sup­port greener de­vel­op­ment. The Yangtze winds its way across China from west to east for over 6,000 km. Its 990 bil­lion cu­bic me­tres of wa­ter has the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate 1 tril­lion kilo- watt hours of power, around half of the power China gen­er­ates each year. Gangk­ouwan hy­dropower sta­tion, in Xuancheng City in east China’s An­hui Prov­ince, gen­er­ates 100 mil­lion kilo­watt hours per year. The same amount of power would re­quire 30,000 tonnes coal to be burned, which would gen­er­ate 60,000 tonnes of car­bon diox­ide. “The hy­dropower sta­tion should not only con­trib­ute to the lo­cal econ­omy, it should be some­thing for the en­vi­ron­ment, too,” said Xiao Yonghui, the power sta­tion’s gen­eral man­ager.

It’s a cleaner source of en­ergy com­pared with fos­sil fuel as it helps mit­i­gate green house ef­fects and acid rain. But en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have voiced con­cern over the eco­log­i­cal im­pact hy­dropower sta­tions have on their lo­cal­ity. Large hy­dropower projects in the up­per stream of the Yangtze River have been blamed for caus­ing droughts as they dis­rupt wa­ter flow. But such al­ter­na­tive en­ergy will be an in­evitable choice for a coun­try fac­ing mount­ing chal­lenges to stop air pol­lu­tion turn­ing from bad to worse af­ter decades of over-reliance on fos­sil fuel. In ad­di­tion to help­ing the coun­try wean it­self off fos­sil fu­els, these power gen­er­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties are also be­ing ap­proved and con­structed amid an on­go­ing in­fra­struc­ture boom used by the govern­ment as a back­stop for slow­ing eco­nomic growth.

Of­fi­cials are well aware of the prob­lems with hy­dropower de­vel­op­ment in the past. Some fa­cil­i­ties have sucked down­stream rivers dry and dis­placed res­i­dents.

The State Coun­cil, China’s cabi­net, said dur­ing a meet­ing late last year that hy­dropower projects should be de­signed, con­structed and op­er­ated with the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment and com­mu­ni­ties in mind. “We have dis­man­tled over 100 small hy­dropower sta­tion over the past two years and these sites are now farm­land,” said Yang Youzhi, a lo­cal of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for manag­ing hy­dropower works in An­hui. “The rea­son they are gone is that they over-dam rivers and were al­most wornout.”

Re­main­ing fa­cil­i­ties will get a boost in power gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity to make up for ca­pac­ity lost due to the dis­man­tling of old sta­tions. They also need to ad­just wa­ter flow in con­sid­er­a­tion with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, in­dus­trial and res­i­den­tial wa­ter us­age needs and other wa­ter-re­lated emer­gen­cies. The provin­cial govern­ment also re­quires rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to take con­crete ac­tions to re­sume wa­ter flow dis­rupted by hy­dropower sta­tions. Eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion is also fea­tured heav­ily in the au­thor­i­ties’ re­view of plans to con­struct new fa­cil­i­ties. In Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, next to An­hui and fur­ther down the lower reaches of the Yangtze, an eco­log­i­cal restora­tion pro­gramme is un­der­way.

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