BEIJING, July 4 (Reuters) - The final turbine of China's massive Three Gorges Dam was connected to the grid on Wednesday, marking the completion of a controversial hydropower project that cost the country more than $50 billion and displaced at least 1.3 million people.
The installation of the project's 32nd 700-megawatt unit brought total capacity up to 22.5 gigawatts (GW), accounting for 11 percent of the country's total hydroelectric capacity.
"The complete operation of all the generators makes the Three Gorges Dam the world's largest hydropower project, and the largest base for clean energy," China Radio International quoted Zhang Cheng, general manager of the project's operator, China Yangtze Power Co. Ltd., as saying at a ceremony.
The construction of the world's biggest hydropower plant began in 1994 and its first generating unit was connected to the grid in July 2003. Official news agency Xinhua said it has already generated a total of 564.8 billion kilowatt-hours, saving nearly 200 million tonnes of coal a year.
But the project, located on the middle reaches of the Yangtze river, cost a total of 254 billion yuan ($39.99 billion), four times the original estimate, and another 123.8 billion yuan has been spent on "follow-up work".
The project's 185-metre dam and 600-km reservoir have forced the relocation of at least 1.3 million residents, and the government has acknowledged that earthquake and landslide risks have also increased in the region.
Hydropower construction slowed after building work on the dam was completed in 2006, with several large-scale projects vetoed because of the soaring costs of handling displaced people and protecting the environment.
But Beijing is now committed to bringing another 140 GW of hydropower capacity on line between 2011 and 2015 to meet its renewable energy targets. ($1 = 6.3523 yuan) (Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Anthony Barker and Keiron Henderson)