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Construction begins on largest hydropower plant in Tibet

May 2, 2016

South China Morning Post, April 30, 2016 - China has started construction of the first hydropower station on the Jinsha River – part of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River – that will supply electricity to the economically well-off regions in the country’s east, official media reported.

The Suwalong hydro power project at the junction of Mangkam county in Tibet and Batang county in Sichuan (四川) province has a design capacity of 1.2 gigawatts and will be able to generate about 5,400 gigawatt hours of electricity a year when completed in 2021, Xinhua reported.

The design capacity is more than double that of the Zangmu hydropower plant, Tibet’s largest existing hydro project, which was completed in October on the Yarlung Zongbo river.

It is hoped that the 18 billion yuan (HK$21.5 billion) Suwalong dam, could pave the way for other projects in the headwaters of the adjacent Nu (Salween) and Lancang (Mekong) rivers to “fuel development” of hydro power in Tibet, the official website reported.

The Suwalong project will also boost local social and economic development in Tibet, according to the website. Construction of the 112-metre-high dam is expected to start next year.

Developed by China Huadian Corp, the Suwalong dam is being built at a time when the weak grid infrastructure and falling demand for electricity has left many hydropower stations lying idle in the mountainous southwest region.

More than 20,000 GWh of hydro electricity were not used in Sichuan and Yunnan (雲南) provinces, which neighbour Tibet, in 2014. Energy experts estimated that enough water to generate 40,000 GWh was simply allowed to run through turbines in the region last year.

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