India needn’t be overly sensitive to Tibet’s plan to develop hydropower resources

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/22 23:13:39

China has recently dammed a river in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region for the construction of the Suwalong hydropower station, the first hydropower project investment that will push forward a plan to "transfer Tibet's electricity out."

It is understandable that India is sensitive to the plan. Tibet is the source of headwaters to some major transboundary rivers flowing from China to India, making water-resource exploitation in Tibet a source of tension between the two neighboring countries.

India is concerned that the plan may potentially jeopardize its water supplies and thus lead to a water security crisis in India.

Tibet is known for its abundance of hydroelectric power resources, with nearly 30 percent of China's hydropower potential, but the resources that have been exploited represent just a tiny part of gross reserves. Therefore, Tibet wants to accelerate water-resource exploitation and make it a new source of economic growth by selling excess hydropower to economically prosperous regions. But there are still a number of challenges.

Once the hidden costs of transmission are considered, sending electricity over long distances is inherently inefficient. To transfer Tibet's electricity out, the exploitation of hydropower resources in the region is likely to be mainly concentrated on the Jinsha River, Lancang River and Nujiang River, which are located close to the border area between Tibet and other Chinese provinces.

In its 13th Five-Year Plan, to map out the region's economic and social development from 2016-20, Tibet has highlighted the role of hydropower stations in the three rivers to send electricity out.

The Suwalong hydropower station, constructed on the upper reaches of the Jinsha River, is the first project to get investment to carry out the plan.

The Jinsha, Lancang and Nujiang rivers are famous waterways in Southwest China with enormous hydropower potential, but they don't run through India.

This doesn't necessarily mean hydropower stations in transboundary rivers flowing from China to India, such as the Yarlung Zangbo River (which is known as the Brahmaputra after it flows into India), will be isolated from the plan to transfer Tibet's electricity out, but they may be not the first choice.

The Zangmu dam, which became partially operational in 2014, raised serious concerns in India as the first major hydropower project on the Yarlung Zangbo River in Tibet. However, the dam has a reservoir capacity of just 86.6 million cubic meters of water, accounting for a tiny portion of the average annual runoff of the Yarlung Zangbo River.

In any case, India doesn't need to be oversensitive to Tibet's hydropower development plan.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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