China Begins Construction Of First Hydropower Plant In Controversial Project

China began construction of the first of four major hydropower plants on a strategically-important river this week, state media said Dec. 18. 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 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 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.

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.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005

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