Wen’s tenure as premier saw a number of projects shelved, with only a third of the projects identified as a priority over the 2006-2010 period actually going ahead, said Zhang Boting, the deputy head of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, a pro-hydro group.
Among the projects vetoed by Wen were a series of dams on Yunnan’s untouched, UNESCO-protected Nu River, known outside China as the Salween, in 2005. The project has been shelved since, but it is still listed among the government’s key development projects for the 2011-2015 period.
Wen, a geologist by trade and populist by instinct, is due to step down in March 2013. But long before his departure, the tide had begun to turn. China’s latest five-year plan said 160 GW of new hydro capacity needed to go into construction over the 2011-2015 period.
“If implemented, it will result in an unprecedented dam-building push,” said Peter Bosshard, director of environmental group International Rivers, which campaigns against big dams.
The builders of several projects stalled during Wen’s tenure as premier have already begun construction even before receiving approval to go ahead. Giant power firms are preparing new multiple dam systems on the upper reaches of the Yangtze and Mekong rivers in southwest China’s Yunnan province.
The 1.9 GW Huangdeng project, one of a series of dams under construction on the Mekong by China’s biggest power firm, the Huaneng Group, is now 40 percent complete even though it hasn’t yet been fully approved, activists say.
Huaneng and other giant state-owned utilities are clearly confident that final approval will be granted quickly once the new leadership is in place.