Environment ministry’s “insurmountable firewall” halts hydro projects

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has suspended construction of two major hydropower projects on the upper Yangzte River after both projects failed to attain the necessary environmental approvals.

Huadian’s 2,160MW Ludila project and Huaneng’s 1,700MW Longjaikou project on the Jinsha River in Yunan Province have both fallen foul of the MEP’s new regulatory oversight thresholds which now require national, not local, approval for high environmental impact projects.

This is the first time Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) have been used to enforce environmental and safety standards for Chinese hydro plant, where such approvals are normally a formality. According to Professor Jiang Gaoming, vice secretary-general of the UNESCO China Man and the Biosphere Committee, EIAs had largely become “a marginalized and decorative process” in the Chinese hydro business.

However, in January, the environmental ministry overhauled its EIA approval process, doubling its review capacity, fast-tracking smaller projects and requiring larger projects to be reviewed more carefully at national level.
For smaller projects, this has made the approval process faster and more efficient. But for those “energy guzzling, high pollution and resource intensive projects”, the EIA now represents “an insurmountable firewall”, as the ministry says, for projects prohibited by law.

The hydro project suspensions are part of a wider review of the environmental impact major energy and infrastructure projects following the government’s RMB4 trillion stimulus package announced last year. Alongside sharper teeth for the MEP, the Chinese government is using credit and capital requirements to rein in the worst polluting sectors and ensure only the most sustainable and environmentally benign projects benefit from its stimulus cash.

About James Ockenden (223 Articles)
A writer covering international energy and power markets since 1996
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