BEIJING, Nov 16 (Reuters) - China may have quietly opened the floodgates to build new massive hydropower projects after a near halt due to environmental, immigration and other concerns, as Beijing steps up efforts to achieve clean energy and emissions targets.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) agreed in late October for China Three Gorges Power Corp (CTGPC) to proceed with early-stage studies of the 8.7-gigawatt (GW) Wudongde and 14-GW Baihetan hydropower projects, according to CTGPC.
In July, the NDRC formally approved construction of the 2.4-GW Jin‘anqiao hydropower project.
China’s Ministry of Environment Protection also gave clearance in July to China Huadian Corp’s 2.16-GW Ludila and China Huaneng Group’s 1.7-GW Longkaikou hydropower plants, two projects already under construction but halted from June last year because they lacked mandatory environmental impact assessments.
All five projects are on the Jinsha River, the largest tributary to the Yangtze River.
Beijing has not openly acknowledged any policy shift, and calls to the NDRC were not answered. A fax sent in September to the environment ministry asking about changes to environmental requirements did not receive a response.
China, with the largest hydropower capacity in the world, is also the world’s largest producer and consumer of carbon-intensive coal, the source of more than 80 percent of national electricity output.
The government has pledged to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuels in overall primary energy use to 15 percent by 2020 and to cut carbon intensity -- the amount of carbon dioxide per unit of gross domestic product -- by 40-45 percent during the same period.
National Energy Administration officials have repeatedly said that hydropower was the best option and the main tool for clean energy, as scattering biomass energy and intermittent wind and solar lacked competitiveness in terms of scale, technology and economics, while nuclear construction plans had almost exceeded sustainable levels.
China’s total hydropower capacity reached 200 GW in August and top energy official Zhang Guobao said the number had to reach 380 GW by 2020 if the country was to meet its clean energy and emissions targets.
He said China needed to start building 120 GW of hydropower projects in the six years through 2015 given the longer construction time needed compared with coal-fired plants [ID:nTOE64U02I]
Approvals for big hydropower projects had almost come to a halt in recent years amid complaints about the environmental and economic viability of large dams, as well as the treatment of migrants displaced during the impoundment of reservoirs.
Massive dam-building plans were axed or put on hold, including one involving the UNESCO-protected Nu River in southwest China’s Yunnan province, scrapped after the intervention of Premier Wen Jiabao. (Reporting by Jim Bai and Tom Miles; Editing by Chris Lewis)