Beijing takes on Russian hydroelectric plants
Siberian entrepreneurs seeking investment from China. Moscow needs to boost energy supplies between Lake Bajkal and the Amur River. The Chinese want control of the new facilities. Russian critics say opening the doors to Beijing's money goes against the national interest.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - Under recent agreements work is set to begin on new hydroelectric power plants in the Siberian regions of Amur and Khabarovsk, which border China. For some time Russian companies in the area have been asking the Chinese to invest in local energy facilities, where several engineers from China work. Now the new complexes could end up in Beijing's hands. In an official report to President Vladimir Putin, Russian entrepreneurs have made it known that this choice will be essential to ensure energy supplies in the area between Lake Bajkal and the Amur River.
The new power plants will be built along the Amur basin and on the Niman and Selemdža tributaries, in order to "develop the energy system of the Far Eastern federal region, with the necessary flood prevention measures," as the report states. The financial means for such an operation are not specified: "The matter is being worked out, and it will be necessary to attract appropriate investments as soon as possible."
In order to fix the eastern aquifer basins, at the beginning of August the Deputy Premier for the Far East, Jurij Trutnev, had tasked the Ministry of Energy and the State Electricity Agency Rusgidro with submitting proposals. The acting governor of Khabarovsk, Mikhail Degtarev (who replaces the incumbent Sergei Furgal, in prison for almost a year), has also suggested various solutions to contain overflows from the Amur basin. One of them is the construction of new power plants: "So the whole [railway section] Bam [Baikalo-Amursky Magistral] will be powered by electricity."
Since the end of July, the regions of Oltre-Bajkal, Khabarovsk, and the Birobižan Autonomous Jewish Region have been in a state of emergency due to flooding. Heavy rains have caused the Amur and Zeja rivers to rise out of control. Many roads were flooded and hundreds of houses and cultivated fields were swept away and evacuated. Cyclones have been plaguing the Amur region since the beginning of June, causing damage worth more than 6 billion rubles (nearly 70 million euros).
The new power plants will be added to the two existing Soviet-era power plants in the Khabarovsk and Amur regions, which serve to regulate water in the basins and have now reached the limits of their capacities (over 30 billion tons of water). Discussions about the need for the new power plants have been going on since 2013, at the time of the previous floods, and even then the authorities signed a 230 billion ruble (€2.7 billion) agreement with the Chinese group Ctgc (China Three Gorges Corporation). The aim was to jointly implement energy projects on Russian territory. The Russian side would have retained 51% of the new facilities. However, the Chinese withdrew from the deal in 2016.
Now the Russians are back in talks with Ctgc and other Chinese companies, which now want majority control to agree to invest in Russian power plants. Initial surveys show the Chinese are ready to build the new facilities on a turnkey basis, but holding on tightly to control. Some voices of protest have been raised against this initiative, such as that of Sergej Sasim, director of the Center for Electro-Energy Research at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. In his opinion, these agreements go against national interests: "We should use a system of financing repayable with interest on energy produced". One way or another, the new power plants will be built, and the Chinese will certainly not be left empty-handed.
Russian-Chinese trade is expanding all the time. On August 31, the Minister of the Russian Republic of Čuvašja, Alina Semenova, disclosed an agreement to export liquor from Čeboksary, on the Urals, to China. Its value is 8.5 million euros. In Priangarje, the Siberian region of Irkutsk, a Chinese citizen has been accused of smuggling wood worth hundreds of millions of rubles, extending beyond all rules the Chinese business in the Siberian forests.