China clean energy goal will require hydro projects: official

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will not achieve its clean energy development targets for 2020 unless it starts building big hydropower projects soon, China’s top energy official said, supporting industry calls for fast project approvals.

“For new hydropower projects to play a role in China’s move toward energy saving and emission reduction in 2020, their construction must be started before 2015,” Zhang Guobao, head of the National Energy Administration, said in remarks published on Monday.

“Considering current hydropower capacity, projects under construction, and building cycles, China needs to start building around 120 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower projects in the six years through 2015,” said Zhang, who is also a deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is in charge of approving large projects.

China has 197 GW of hydropower generating capacity, or 23 percent of its total installation. Coal is the source of more than three quarters of electricity.

China pledged ahead of the Copenhagen summit last year that it would cut the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each unit of national income by 40-45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

The world’s top emitter of the gas also aimed to boost the proportion of non-fossil fuels in overall energy consumption to 15 percent by 2020.

Its non-fossil fuel ratio fell to less than 8 percent in 2009 from 8.9 percent in 2008, according to Zhang, who spoke on May 13 during a four-day government review of the feasibility study of the Wudongde hydropower project.

Wudongde, with planned capacity of 8.7 GW, will be built on the upstream portion of the Yangtze River by the China Three Gorges Corp, China’s largest hydropower developer.

To achieve the non-fossil fuels target, hydro and nuclear power should play a leading role, Zhang said in selected remarks published in the China Energy News, a weekly newspaper run by the Official People’s Daily.

But he said hydropower project approvals had almost come to a halt due to environmental, immigration and management reasons, with new approvals amounting to only 14.07 GW since 2007, or less than 5 GW each year.

Zhang refuted allegations that hydropower construction in drought-hit regions had exacerbated water shortages this year in southwestern China, including the Mekong River region. He also disputed allegations that hydropower construction had caused environmental damage.

“Every energy source has positive and negative effects and cannot be viewed only from the negative side ... and should be weighed in an overall way,” he said.

Reporting by Jim Bai and Chen Aizhu; Editing by Ken Wills