One of the six power units in Tibet's largest hydropower station, Zam began operating on 23-11-2014 and started to ease concerns over power shortages in the autonomous region, Tibet Subsiary of electric utility group China Huaneng Group said. The Zam Hydropower Station is considered the world's highest-altitude hydropower station and the largest of its kind in Tibet. It has raised installed capacity from 100,000 kilowatts to the present 510,000 kilowatts in the region.
The first power units is located at an elevation of more than 3,300 meters on the "roof of the world" and cost 9.6 billion yuan ($1.5 billion). The other units are expected to be put into use by next year.
China on 23-11-2014 put into operation its first major dam on the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra river, with the first section of the 510 MW project taking off in Zangmu in Tibet. The Zangmu dam, on which construction began in 2010, raised attention in India as the first major hydropower project on the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra, which has its source in Tibet, where it is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo (or Zangbo in Chinese).
Indian officials have said they have received assurances from China that the dam is a run of the river hydropower generation project, which will neither divert the river's waters nor have a major impact on downstream flows.
China's official Xinhua news agency said the first section of the $ 1.5 billion dam went into operation on Sunday afternoon. Five other sections will be completed next year. The dam will generate 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year, Xinhua reported.
China's plans to build dams in Tibet have been a source of concern to India regarding the possible impact downstream. To address those fears, both sides in July signed a first agreement that will allow Indian hydrological experts to conduct study tours to monitor the river's flows in Tibet.
According to the MoU, China will extend provision of hydrological data from May 15 to October 15 every year, adding half a month to an earlier agreement. The MoU followed a first agreement on transborder rivers signed in 2013 when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Beijing.
Last year, China gave the go-ahead for three new dams on the Yarlung Zangbo, one of which is even bigger than Zangmu, Tibet's biggest hydropower station. A 640 MW dam is slated for construction at Dagu, 18 km upstream of Zangmu. Two smaller dams will be built at Jiacha and Jiexu, also on the middle reaches. China has said the dams are run of the river projects for generating power, and will not divert the river's waters.
The government has said it will "vigorously" push hydropower projects in Tibet in its current Five Year Plan (2011-15) to address the energy shortfall in the region. Chinese hydropower and energy companies have been lobbying the government to allow more hydropower projects to tap Tibet's fast-flowing rivers with as many as 28 proposals put forward by hydroengineering companies awaiting approval.
Environmental groups have expressed concern on the impact of the planned dams on the Tibetan plateau's sensitive ecosystem. While China has committed to taking into account concerns of India as a lower riparian country, the absence of a water sharing agreement between the two countries, hydropower experts say, only gives India limited avenues in terms of monitoring Chinese projects and water flows.
Experts are divided on the impact of Chinese dams. While China has not embarked on any diversion projects - and none are, as yet, planned -the construction of large hydropower dams could impact the river's flows, green groups say.
Asked about the dams on a visit to Beijing earlier this month, Minister of State for External Affairs General (retd.) V.K. Singh said the Indian government would carry out a detailed study of the Brahmaputra's basin to ascertain the volume of flows from China. The extent of the dependence of downstream volumes on flows from China is as yet unclear, as a substantial catchment area for the river is located in the lower reaches.
"We first need to reexamine studies done in the past," Singh said. "It is only then after a thorough study could the risk posed by the dams be determined. We have to see how much water comes from China, and how much is contributed by different tributaries".