China, which is about the same size as the United States or Canada, is similarly blessed with water resources, which are increasingly being used to bridge chronic energy shortages.
The country is practically built on coal. But it is deep in the interior and the transport infrastructure to get it to urban centers and coastal export bases is inadequate.China's main oil reservoirs are chiefly in the geographical equivalents of the U.S. Pacific Northwest and New England. The latter location is good for China's main heavy industry base, but the far northwest is hostile and far
from transport hubs.
The government is now making a concerted effort to step up use of hydropower, which is on tap in numerous areas and doesn't need costly rail or other facilities to get it to consumers.
Thus far, only about 9 percent of estimated hydro reserves is being used. There are just three hydro stations with output of 1 million kilowatts.
From now to the end of the century, 60 medium and large hydropower projects will be launched with total capacity of 70 million KW, the ministry of energy says. At least eight will have output of 1 million KW.
The latest to be announced is a three-station complex on the middle reaches of the Yangtze. China's longest river, it undulates like a dragon 3,200 miles
from Qinghai in the west across the belly of China to the sea above Shanghai.
The three hydro stations will be on the Qingjiang, a 263-mile tributary province with power-generating capacity estimated at more than 3 million KW.
In the first stage, some US$800 million (4 billion yuan) will be spent to build the Shuibuya station. It will have a 750-foot-high dam with storage for 167 billion cubic feet of water and installed capacity of 1.5 million KW.
Stage two will add the 3 billion yuan Geheyan station in the river's lower reaches. It will have a dam 495 feet tall with storage for 120 billion cubic feet of water and output of 1.2 million KW.
Canada created something of a flap in July 1989 when it quietly granted a US$110 million loan for the Geheyan project. The accord was signed just a month after the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square but wasn't disclosed until September that year.
The final stage, Gaobazhou, will have a 187-foot dam, 15 billion cubic
meters of storage and generating capacity of 240,00 KW. It's forecast to cost about 900 million yuan, bringing the project's total to US$1.6 billion.
Work by the water conservancy committee of the Yangtze River will begin soon, though officials haven't given any timetable for completion of the various stages or the whole complex.
Agreement was also reached recently between State Energy Investment Corp. and four provinces on hydropower development along the Yellow River. It snakes 2,700 miles across the northern tier from Qinghai through Inner Mongolia, dips into Shanxi and exits in Bohai Bay in the northeast below the port of Tianjin.
The state energy entity will fund 80 percent of the 3 billion-yuan cost of the Lijiaxia hydro station in Qinghai. The remainder will come from Qinghai, Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia provinces.
This project entails a dam 540 feet high and more than 1,400 feet wide. The first generator is forecast to generate 1.6 million KW beginning in 1996 with three more to follow over three years.
In the first six months of this year, China generated 96 billion kilowatt- hours of electricity from hydro sources, up only marginally from the 95 billion of the corresponding 1990 period, according to the state statistical bureau.
For all of last year, the figure was 124 billion against 117 billion in 1989.