China unveils plan for world’s largest hydropower project

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China has released official plans to construct a major hydropower project on the Brahmaputra river in Tibet. The proposal for this was clearly put forward in the 14th Five-Year Plan to be implemented from 2021, an official representative quoted the head of the Chinese company tasked to build the dam.  The mainstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River has the richest water resources in Tibet Autonomous Region, about 80 million kilowatt-hours (kWh), while the 50-kilometer section of the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon has 70 million kWh that could be developed with a 2,000-meter drop, which equals more than three Three Gorges power stations in Hubei province, China, the world’s largest hydropower project by far.

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Tibet has about 200 million kWh of water resources, accounting for 30% of the total in China. Environmental groups and Tibetan rights activists have expressed concern about China’s hydropower ambitions in the region, saying it could affect downstream water supplies. Anti-hydropower groups say China’s rivers are already at saturation point after a dam-building boom that included the construction of the Three Gorges Project and many other giant hydropower plants on the Yangtze and its tributaries. Earlier this year, a U.S. government-funded study showed that a series of new dams built by China on the Mekong river had worsened the drought affecting downstream countries. China disputed the findings.

“The 60 million kWh hydropower exploitation at the downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River could provide 300 billion kWh of clean, renewable and zero-carbon electricity annually. The project will play a significant role in realizing China’s goal of reaching a carbon emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060,” stated Yan Zhiyong, chairman of the Power Construction Corp of China at a recent conference.”It is a project for national security, including water resources and domestic security,” he said, noting that the project will also smooth cooperation with South Asia. The hydropower station could generate an income of US$3 billion annually for the Tibet Autonomous Region, he said.