China commissioned what will become the world’s second-largest hydropower plant on Monday. It should help it achieve its climate goals, but its environmental and humanInternational impact is not insignificant.
With its 289-meter-high dam, the Baihetan power station, which straddles the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan (southwest) on the Yangtze, has started producing electricity, according to public television CCTV.
After full commissioning, scheduled for 2022, it will be the second-largest hydroelectric power plant globally in terms of power (16 GW) after that of the Three Gorges Dam (22.5 GW) – also located in China on the Yangtze.
According to CCTV, Bhutan will eventually be able to produce enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 500,000 people.
The dam spans a narrow gorge in the upper reaches of the Yangtze, the longest river in China. Its construction represented a technical challenge in a region prone to earthquakes.
President Xi Jinping said he hoped the plant “will help achieve China’s peak carbon emissions (by 2030) and carbon neutrality (by 2060)” and “make the ecological transition.”
The plant’s commissioning coincides with the centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China (CCP), officially marked on Thursday.
China launched several decades ago in the construction of hydroelectric dams to fuel its formidable economic development and limit the consumption of coal on which it is very dependent.
However, these infrastructures have a strong ecological and human impact. They disrupt the local ecosystem and require the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
The concern relates in particular to the fish populations. The influence of the Baihetan power station on the temperature of the water downstream and the physical presence of the dam could be detrimental to their development. The project also required the rehousing of some 100,000 people in this week and rural areas.
China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG), the company that built and operates the plant, said it has paid out 70 billion yuan (9.1 billion euros) in financial compensation and built new homes.
As the filling of the dam lake required the flooding of arable land, the company also says it has funded vocational training so that the displaced can find employment.