Plans to build big hydropower stations in Tibet are designed to meet growing domestic demand for electricity and will not have a major impact on the ecosystem or on downstream water supplies, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
Tibet could become the country’s biggest hydropower generator, with its rivers capable of carrying a total capacity of 140 gigawatts, around a quarter of the national total potential capacity, according to official estimates.
The mainland started commercial operations last year of the Zangmu hydropower facility, the biggest so far built in Tibet, and began building another plant in Shigatse earlier this year, also on the river Yarlung Tsangpo, the upstream section of the transboundary Brahmaputra.
“Our hydropower development in Tibet falls under the country’s broad sector planning and meets strict standards. They will not have much impact on the environment, or any impact on downstream water supplies,” Tang Haizhou, vice-chairman of the autonomous region, said.
India and other downstream countries such as Vietnam have long expressed concern that China’s upstream dams could disrupt their water supplies.
Fresh concerns arose at the start of this month when Xinhua reported that a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo had been blocked for the construction of the 4.95 billion yuan (HK$5.66 billion) Laiho hydropower project, due to go into full operation in 2019.
The 2,900km Brahmaputra flows southeast from Tibet through the Himalayas into northeast India’s Arunachal Pradesh state before entering Bangladesh and merging with the lower section of the Ganges, before it empties into the Bay of Bengal.
“The amount of water dammed is tiny compared to the total net river flows [in Tibet],” Tang said.