China approves more hydropower amid clean energy push

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has approved several new hydropower projects recently, in a sign that the government is speeding up development of clean energy after an approvals slowdown in recent years because of concerns including environmental impact.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said on Monday in reports on its website ( that it had approved the construction of the 2.6-gigwatt (GW) Changheba hydropower project in Sichuan province this month.

The commission said it had also approved the 2.4-GW Guan’di hydropower station and the 600-megawatt Tongzilin hydropower project, both in Sichuan, in September.

The approvals come after the NDRC agreed in late October for China Three Gorges Power Corp (CTGPC) to proceed with early-stage studies for the 8.7-GW Wudongde and 14-GW Baihetan hydropower projects.

Approvals for big hydropower projects had almost come to a halt in recent years amid complaints about the environmental impact and economic viability of large dams, as well as the treatment of migrants displaced during the impoundment of reservoirs.

But energy officials have raised an alarm this year that the nation’s carbon emission cuts and clean energy goals will be not be met unless more approvals were given for large hydropower projects.

Beijing has not openly acknowledged any policy shift.

The government has pledged to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuels in overall primary energy use to 15 percent by 2020 and to cut carbon intensity -- the amount of carbon dioxide per unit of gross domestic product -- by 40-45 percent during the same period.

The country’s total hydropower capacity reached 200 GW in August and top energy official Zhang Guobao said capacity had to reach 380 GW by 2020 if the country was to meet its clean energy and emissions targets.

He said China needed to start building 120 GW of hydropower projects in the six years through 2015 given the longer construction time needed compared with coal-fired plants.

Reporting by Jim Bai and Tom Miles; Editing by Chris Lewis