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Environment

China debuts biggest hydroelectric dam since Three Gorges

16-gigawatt Baihetan to replace 20m tons of annual coal consumption

China's Baihetan hydropower station, built in the Jinsha River basin, will provide power to coastal regions. (Photo courtesy of China Three Gorges Corp.)

CHONGQING -- China's giant Baihetan hydroelectric dam, the second largest in the country, began generating electricity on Monday, in a boost to Beijing's push toward a carbon-neutral society.

The Baihetan hydropower station, which feeds off the Jinsha River in southwestern China, turned on two of its 16 generating units, each having a capacity of 1 gigawatt. The dam is due to operate at full capacity in July 2022.

President Xi Jinping has said that China, the world's leading producer of carbon dioxide, will achieve net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2060. To accomplish that goal, the state has been building a series of hydroelectric dams.

Baihetan alone is expected to reduce China's annual coal consumption by 19.68 million tons.

Baihetan's total capacity of 16 GW ranks second only to China's Three Gorges Dam, which runs at 22.5 GW. Construction began in 2017 at a reported cost of more than 300 billion yuan ($46.5 billion).

The state-owned China Three Gorges Corp. built the 289-meter-tall dam at the border of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. A three-day trial took place prior to the formal start of operations.

The power generated will be sent to the coastal provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, where the concentration of factories has fueled heavy demand for electricity. The dam will make use of an efficient power grid connecting the inland and coastal areas.

China's hydroelectric generating capacity totaled 370 GW at the end of 2020, accounting for 17% of the country's power mix. The Wudongde hydropower station, which also straddles Sichuan and Yunnan, went into full operation this month. China plans to accelerate construction of hydroelectric stations mainly in inland areas.

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