(Beijing) China on Monday commissioned what will become the world’s second largest hydropower plant. It should help it achieve its climate goals, but its environmental and human impact is not negligible.
The Baitan Power Station, with its 289-meter-high dam, which stretches across Sichuan and Yunnan provinces (southwest of the Yangtze River), has begun to produce electricity, according to the Central Television Network.
After full commissioning, scheduled for 2022, it will be the world’s second largest hydropower plant by capacity (16 GW) after that of the Three Gorges Dam (22.5 GW) – also located in China on the Yangtze River.
Baihetan will eventually be able to produce enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 500,000 people, according to CCTV.
The dam spans a narrow strait in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, the longest river in China. Its construction posed a technical challenge, in an earthquake-prone area.
President Xi Jinping said he hopes the plant will help “achieve China’s peak carbon emissions (by 2030) and carbon neutrality (by 2060)” and “achieve environmental transformation goals”.
The start-up of the plant coincides with the centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China, which will be officially celebrated on Thursday.
Several decades ago, China launched the construction of hydroelectric dams in order to support its massive economic development and reduce the consumption of coal on which it relies heavily.
However, these infrastructures have a strong environmental and human impact. They disrupt the local ecosystem and require the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Particular concern relates to fish populations. The effect of the Bayitan Power Plant on the temperature of the stream, as well as the physical presence of the dam, may be detrimental to its development.
The project also required the resettlement of about 100,000 people in this poor rural area.
China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG), which built and operates the plant, said it paid 70 billion yuan ($13.3 billion Canadian) in compensation and built new homes.
Since filling the dam’s lake required flooding of arable land, the company also says it has funded vocational training so the displaced can find work.