Monday, China officially began partial operation of a massive new hydroelectric dam, the Baihetan Hydropower Station, says The Associated Press. Construction has taken four years and about $34 billion, per NDTV.

  • Located in southwest China along a tributary of the Yangtze River, the new hydropower station is a major milestone.

China’s new hydropower dam is the second-largest in the world

Over 900 feet tall, the Baihetan dam has 16 units that can each generate 1 million kilowatts of energy. This energy-generating capacity makes it the second-largest in the world. The Baihetan Hydropower Station will produce more than 15 times the energy produced from the Hoover Dam, reports Global Times.

  • Essentially, in one hour, one unit will generate enough energy to supply electricity to an ordinary Chinese family for 400 years, reports Global Times.
  • At full capacity, the Baihetan dam will supply enough electricity to meet the power needs of 500,000 people for a year — every single day, reports NDTV.

The largest hydropower dam in the world is also along China’s Yangtze River. This dam — the Three Gorges Dam — began operations in 2003, according to the AP.

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The dam is part of China’s effort to reduce carbon emissions

China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060, but increasing energy demands have kept the country reliant on fossil fuels. The Baihetan hydroelectric station is a major step to expand China’s use of alternative power sources, according to the AP.

  • In conjunction with expanding capacity, China is also developing new technology to allow transmission of hydroelectric power from southwestern dams to eastern cities, like Shanghai, the AP reports.
  • When fully operational, the Baihetan dam will eliminate the need to burn 20 million tons of coal annually, thereby cutting China’s carbon emissions, says the AP.
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For the Chinese government, the new dam is a major symbol

The Baihetan hydropower station was unveiled only three days before the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, says the AP. In celebration of this centenary, the Chinese government has unveiled a number of major construction projects.

  • The construction “miracles” are intended as symbols for the party’s commitment to strengthening and developing China, says Global Times.

The new dam may cause damage and international water disputes

However, the new hydropower station does have concerning implications for the region. Environmental groups have criticized the dam for displacing hundreds of thousands of local communities, says NDTV.

  • Large-scale dams, like Baihetan, also disrupt river ecology and threaten fish or other local species, says the AP.

According to NDTV, China’s neighbors — such as India and Vietnam, who also rely on water from Yangtze tributaries — have growing concerns. These countries are concerned that China expanding its control over substantial portions of the water supply will create negative consequences for downstream countries.

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