The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's top industry planning body, has given its in-principle approval for what will be the nation's third largest hydropower station.
The Baihetan hydropower station on Jinsha River, an upstream branch of the Yangtze River, would be the third biggest behind the Three Gorges project and the Xiluodu power station.
The planned power station will be situated on the lower reaches of the Jinsha between the borders of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in southwest China.
"We have been studying the feasibility of constructing a plant on the river for years," said Jin Changjiang, a spokesman for the China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC), which is pitching for the contract to build the power station.
The station would have an installed capacity of 12,000 MW (megawatts) and an average annual power output of 56 billion kilowatt hours, according to a company statement.
It would complement three other hydropower stations on the lower reaches of the Jinsha, Xiluodu, Wudongde and Xiangjiaba.
On completion, the four hydropower stations together will have the capacity to produce twice the amount of electricity as the Three Gorges project.
CTGPC started the construction of Xiluodu hydropower station, China's second largest at the end of last year.
With an installation capacity of about 12,600 MW, the Xiluodu station is expected to stem water flow along the Jinsha in 2007.
The first generating unit will be installed in 2012, with the entire project to be completed by 2015.
The project will cost 50.3 billion yuan (US$6.3 billion). It is expected to bring in about 300 million yuan (US$37.5 million) in annual revenue to Sichuan Province when it is completed, said Wang Huaichen, vice-governor of the province.
Construction of the four hydropower stations is part of China's West-to-East Electricity Transmission Project, which aims to transfer power from the water-rich southwest to the electricity-thirsty east.
"The four hydropower projects have been launched after several years of preparation in terms of technical planning, environmental protection and the relocation of thousands of residents in the construction areas," said Li Yong'an, general manager of CTGPC.
Li said that besides electricity power supply, the four stations would help to retain silt and so reduce sedimentation in the Three Gorges reservoir.
They will also increase water flows during the dry season to increase the power-generating capacity of the Three Gorges and Gezhouba stations in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
The total installed capacity of China's electricity generating plants reached 508 GW (gigawatts) at the end of last year, an increase of 14.9 percent from 2004, according to sources with the China Electricity Council, an industry association for power producers.
The figure is expected to exceed 1,000 GW within 15 years, which will help maintain supply to the fast-growing economy, industry analysts said.
The Chinese government has vowed to use renewable energy to supply 15 percent of the nation's energy needs by 2020, compared with the current level of seven percent.
At the start of this year, China put into effect its first renewable energy law to try to reach that ambitious aim.
Compared with traditional energy sources, such as coal and oil, China wants to fully exploit its rich hydropower reserves to obtain cheap, renewable and cleaner energy.
Jia Jinsheng, vice-president of the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, told China Daily that the country was trying to boost the portion of its energy that comes from renewable sources, which includes water resources, to cut reliance on coal and oil.
(China Daily June 6, 2006)