China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) last week halted construction of two major hydroelectric projects on the Jinsha River for inadequate environmental reviews. The order has thrown into question a 200 billion yuan (US$29.2 billion) investment in hydro projects along the middle reaches of the river.

The MEP ordered the nation’s two biggest power companies, China Huaneng Group and China Huadian Group, to suspend construction of the 2,100-MW Ludila and 1,800-MW Longkaikou hydroelectric projects in Yunnan Province on the Jinsha, in the upper reaches of China’s great Yangtze River.

According to the China Daily, the MEP found that the projects blocked the river to begin construction without reviewing its environmental impact, ministry spokesman Tao Detian said. Building dams without proper designs and environmental protection measures would damage the water ecology, both upriver and downriver, as well as negatively impact local communities, Tao reportedly said.

Power companies want to build 12 hydropower plants along the 1,423-mile Jinsha River, which flows to Yunnan and Sichuan provinces from its source high on the Tibet Plateau.

Among these are the 465-MW Jinganqiao, which is under construction; 2,100-MW Ahai, under construction by Jinsha River Hydro Project Development Co.; 2,400-MW Liyuan being developed by Jinsha River Hydro; 3,000-MW Guanyingyan; and 4,000-MW Liangjiaren.

China Huaneng Group and China Huadian Group generate nearly 20% of the mainland’s total electricity. Experts, like Zhao Yi, dean of the school of environmental science and engineering at North China Electric Power University, are calling the environmental order on the two companies “unprecedented,” reported AsiaNews.

The MEP’s crackdown follows the government’s public admission that the 22,500-MW Three Gorges dam—the largest hydroelectric power station in the world—is ridden with problems, social and environmental. The dam has already caused the relocation of millions people and flooded thousands of villages. Senior government officials report grappling with spreading algae problems, poor-quality water, and soil erosion—which has triggered landslides.

Sources: MEP, China Daily, AsiaNews