China is preparing to speed up the development of hydro power. It plans to build almost 15GW of new hydro power by 2005 in the country’s 12 western provinces as part of a new thrust to reduce economic and social disparities between the neglected west and the flourishing east. China will also add 6GW nationwide in the next five years to its already extensive small hydro capacity, while further run-of-river capacity will be added under Japanese environmental assistance.

The western hydro programme was announced by the State Electric Power Corporation (SEPC) on 27 November 2000, following a planning workshop with the State Development Planning Commission (SDPC) on how to deliver 10GW of clean power to the energy-starved eastern seaboard by 2005.

The outcome of this meeting was that 29GW of new power capacity of all types will be built in the western provinces by 2005, 51% or 14.84GW of which will be hydro. Of this, just over one-third or 4.9GW will be transmitted east from the expansion of three existing projects in Guizhou province: Hongjiadu, Yinzidu and Wujiangdu projects. The balance of 5.1GW will be contributed by Three Gorges (3GW), Yunnan hydro projects (1.6GW), and the Tianshengqiao project (0.5GW).

Assigning precise power sources was necessary to identify priority transmission line development. The entire 10GW will avoid the construction of a coal-fired plant in the already severely polluted east. It will also enable western provinces to become part of eastern growth by selling power to it.

The much less controversial small hydro programme seeks to add 6GW capacity mostly in the western and central regions by 2005. Long term national goals require 41GW, 56GW and 60GW installed capacity of small hydro by 2010, 2020 and 2030 respectively. Small hydro operations in 1999 avoided the consumption of 9M m3 of timber and 40M tons of coal nationwide.

Meanwhile Hitachi and Itochu corporations have announced a joint order for five 45MW run-of-river turbines from Hunan Wuling Hydropower Development Company and Harbin Electric Machinery Company. The order is the first to be financed by Japanese loans to promote environmental protection in China. More are expected to follow but China is not limiting such protection to small projects. On 6 December 2000 it decided to accelerate preparatory work for the proposed 5.5GW Nuozhadu project on the Lancang (Mekong) river. Nuozhadu will be commissioned in 2015 and will avoid the combustion of 14M tons of coal annually.