The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection has refused approval for a hydropower dam on an ecologically vulnerable river already damaged by construction, a rare setback for the country’s extensive dam-building program.
While the 1,000-megawatt Xiaonanhai project appears scrapped, experts said China’s overall plan for dams was on course, given pressure to cut smog from coal-fired power plants.
Hydropower capacity is due to rise another 60 gigawatts (GW) in five years as new projects get approved.
The ministry said in a document sent to Three Gorges Project Corp and seen by Reuters that the firm could not plan or build the project on the Jinsha River, the upstream section of the Yangtze, in the southwest.
“In the past 10 years, two investigations have been carried out into construction in precious and unique national protection zones for fish in the lower reaches of the Jinsha River, and the structure and function of the zones have already been heavily impacted,” the ministry said in the document.
“Your company, as well as other units, cannot plan or build the Xiaonanhai hydropower plant,” it said.
Officials at Three Gorges Project Corp were not available for comment and telephone calls went unanswered.
Environmentalists said the blocking of a project once championed by the disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai (薄熙來) reflected a tougher stance on protecting rivers.
“We welcome the decision, particularly the recognition that Xiaonanhai dam would have pushed the Yangtze fish reserve past the ecological red line,” Grace Mang of the International Rivers group said.
Final approval for big hydropower plants goes to the State Council, China’s Cabinet, and hydropower advocates questioned the legal basis of the ministry document, an environmental impact assessment of the 10-gigawatt Wudongde plant, also on the Jinsha River.
“The State Council last year approved an overall development plan for the whole of the Yangtze river basin, and that plan cannot be guaranteed without building Xiaonanhai and other projects,” China Hydropower Society deputy secretary-general Zhang Boting (張博庭) said.
“If this company doesn’t build, then another might have to, because this is a state planning requirement,” he said.
China’s dam program slowed after completion of the Three Gorges Project, the world’s biggest hydropower plant, about a decade ago, with leaders concerned about human, financial and environmental costs.
However, with an ambitious nuclear-power program delayed, a greater reliance on hydropower is seen as a good way to cut smog.
In other developments, a city government in southern China has revoked approval of a planned waste incinerator in response to protests, in the latest case of local authorities bowing to a public outcry over health concerns.
The Luoding City Government in Guangdong Province said in a statement on Wednesday that the project fit a national policy to encourage solid waste processing in the cement industry, but that it was canceled “in response to public demands.”
Thousands of residents fearful of pollution rallied on Monday and clashed with police the following day, the Global Times reported.
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