SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China could build up to 60 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower capacity on a section of the Brahmaputra river, known as the Yarlung Tsangbo, which flows from Tibet into India and Bangladesh, Chinese state media reported on Monday, citing a senior executive.
Yan Zhiyong, chairman of state-owned Power Construction Corporation of China, speaking at an industry conference, said that plans to dam the river were a “historic opportunity”, and would not only help to meet the country’s clean energy plans but would also strengthen water supply security.
His remarks were published by China Energy News, a sister publication of the Communist Party-run People’s Daily.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party had said it would “implement the development of hydropower resources on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangbo river” in a list of 2021-2025 “five-year plan” policy recommendations published at the beginning of November.
Environmental groups and Tibetan rights activists have expressed concern about China’s hydropower ambitions in the region, saying it could affect downstream water supplies.
Yan said hydropower construction would help to develop Tibet, while the construction of power grids and roads would make cross-border cooperation with South Asian countries “more smooth.”
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.
China says its current hydropower capacity of around 350 gigawatts represents only about half of its total potential.
Frank Yu, an analyst with Wood Mackenzie, said during a webinar on Monday that China would require another 250 GW of hydroelectric capacity by 2060 if it is to meet its carbon neutrality target set by Xi Jinping in September.
Reporting by David Stanway and Muyu Xu. Editing by Jane Merriman