Three Gorges Corp first 'responsibility report' fails to assure

June 24, 2011
The Great Bend of the Jinsha River

The China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC) its touting its four hydroelectric projects on the lower reaches of the Jinsha River - the westernmost headwater stream of the Yangtze - which will be capable of producing twice as much power as the Three Gorges Dam.

All told, planned hydropower output on and around the Jinsha is equal to about 10 Three Gorges Dams. Apart from CTGC's projects there are another eight dams in the works for the lower and middle reaches of the river. In addition, major tributaries are also being dammed: six dams are planned on the Min River, seventeen on the Dadu River, and twenty-one on the Yalong River.

In a first-ever "responsibility report" released by CTGC on June 19, the state-owned company says the four new plants on the river, which is part of the boundary between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, will have 43GW of generating capacity. That's enough to provide about 190 billion KW hours of electricity annually after they come on-line during the next few years, according to the report.

The Xiluodu Dam, which has been under construction since 2005 and is due for completion in 2013, will have 13.86GW of generating capacity. Construction of Xiludo was delayed by the lack of a proper environmental impact study. Further downstream construction of the 6.4GW Xiangjiaba Dam started in 2006 and it will be put into operation in 2012. Construction of the 7.4GW Wudongde Dam is also underway and the 12.6 GW Baihetan Dam is at the site preparation stage. Both are due for completion by 2020.

Since they are located upstream from major conurbations, these projects are unlikely to experience the same silting and pollution problems that have blighted the Three Gorges Dam. Together with the other hydro projects in the area, they will, nonetheless, have a dramatic impact on the environment.

This scale of development will inevitably alter the natural hydrology of the river, threaten fish and local incomes dependent on those fisheries, and inundate millions of acres of farmland and forest, including areas of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site. CTGC's lower Jinsha River dams are being built in a national protection zone for several species of endangered fish. As many as 360,000 people could be displaced to make way for the dams, which are are located in a very active earthquake zone.

Three Gorges justification

CTGC's report also attempted to explain the rationale behind the construction of the highly controversial Three Gorges Dam itself. Chen Fei, the company's general manager, told the People's Daily Online that the dam's main task is to help with drought relief and flood control and that the production of electricity is simply an additional role.

"We closely monitor weather conditions and hydrological changes on the Yangtze River and are prepared to control larger floods," Chen said. "Flood control is the most important task of our project now."

The report also explained that the Three Gorges project, which can deal with a peak flow rate up to 113,000 cubic meters per second, is capable of protecting the Jianghan Plain from floods in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River.

It was the first time the CTGC had released such a "responsibility report", but "the release of the document was not in response to criticism from the public", Zhu claimed, saying that it began to prepare the report as far back as the second half of 2010.