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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January, 2005, 07:25 GMT
China suspends 26 power projects
Locals have a final look of their hometown which will be flooded after the dam's reservoir begins its water storage
Part of the massive Three Gorges Dam project must stop
China has ordered a halt to construction work on 26 big power stations, including two at the Three Gorges Dam, on environmental grounds.

The move is a surprising one because China is struggling to increase energy supplies for its booming economy. Last year 24 provinces suffered black outs.

The State Environmental Protection Agency said the 26 projects had failed to do proper environmental assessments.

Topping the list was a controversial dam on the scenic upper Yangtze River.

"Construction of these projects has started without approval of the assessment of their environmental impact... they are typical illegal projects of construction first, approval next," said SEPA vice-director Pan Yue, in a statement on the agency's website.

Temporary halt?

Some of the projects may be allowed to start work again with the proper permits, but others would be cancelled, he said.

Altogether, the agency ordered 30 projects halted. Other projects included a petrochemicals plant and a port in Fujian. The bulk of the list was made up of new power plants, with some extensions to existing ones.

The stoppages would appear to be another step in the central government's battle to control projects licensed by local officials. However, previous crackdowns have tended to focus on projects for which the government argued there was overcapacity, such as steel and cement.

The government has encouraged construction of new electricity generating capacity to solve chronic energy shortages which forced many factories onto part-time working last year. In 2004, China increased its generating capacity by 12.6% to 440,700 megawatts (MW).

The biggest single project to be halted was the Xiluodi Dam project, designed to produce 12,600 MW of electricity. It is being built on the Jinshajiang - or 'river of golden sand' as the upper reaches of the Yangtze are known.

Second and third on the agency's list were two power stations being built at the $22bn Three Gorges Dam project on the central Yangtze - an underground 4,200 MW power plant and a 100 MW plant.

Criticism

The Three Gorges Dam has proved controversial in China - where more than half a million people have been relocated to make way for it - and abroad. It has drawn criticism from environmental groups and overseas human rights activists.

The damming of the Upper Yangtze has also begun to attract criticism from environmentalists in China.

In April 2004, central government officials ordered a halt to work on the nearby Nu River, which is part of a United Nations world heritage site, the Three Parallel Rivers site which covers the Yangtze, Mekong and Nu (also known as the Salween), according to the UK-published China Review.

That move reportedly followed a protest from the Thai government about the downstream impact of the dams, and a critical documentary made by Chinese journalists.

China's energy shortage influenced global prices for oil, coal and shipping last year.


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