China’s giant hydropower plant ‘safely on time’ for power generation, accused of damaging communities and environment

The Chinese government announced Monday (June 28, 2021) that the first units of the Baikhetan hydropower plant on the Jinsha River have been put into operation “safely and on time”. The Baihetan hydropower plant, which is said to be the world’s largest and most technically challenging under construction, took only four years to build, but critics say the high speed of the dam came at the cost of ecological damage and a lack of transparency in information about the project.

The commissioning of the Baihetan hydropower plant, which coincides with the Communist Party’s celebration of its 100th anniversary, was apparently a political mandate from Beijing. As the first units went into operation, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a special congratulatory message, saying that the completion of this major national project for the “west-east transmission of electricity” “fully demonstrates that socialism is achieved by doing, and the new era is a struggle.” He also hoped that this huge hydropower project “will make a greater contribution to achieving the goal of carbon neutrality and promoting a comprehensive green transformation of economic and social development.”

The giant hydropower plant, costing 170 billion yuan, will provide 62 trillion watts of electricity and reduce carbon emissions by 52 million tons a year. But the project has forced the relocation of more than 100,000 people, destroyed the habitat of some plants and animals upstream of the dam, and threatened fish downstream.

The environmental NGO International Rivers has published a report saying that China’s state-owned hydropower companies have largely failed to take responsibility for the environmental and human damage their projects have caused. The report said that in a rush to meet deadlines, these state-owned hydropower companies often fail to inform the public of the impact of their projects on communities and the ecosystem.