Wind and solar projects banned from freshwater bodies

The Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) has said wind and solar energy projects must not be built on rivers, lakes and reservoirs. And those built in the vicinity of such water bodies should be strictly controlled. 

The directions come in a “guiding opinion” on strengthening management of rivers, lakes and their banks, issued by the MWR on 25 May.

“Over the last few years, against the backdrop of the country’s decarbonisation, some places have constructed solar and wind projects in the boundaries of river and lake areas,” the MWR’s interpretation of the guiding opinion stated. “This is now prohibited.”

With so-called “floating solar” projects located on open water bodies one of the main forms of solar photovoltaic development in China, the opinion quickly became the focus of discussion in the solar industry.

In its interpretation, the MWR maintains the ban is designed to protect the hydrological integrity of water bodies in playing their flood management role. They point to how the structures of solar and wind projects can obstruct the steady flow of water and damage river banks and dikes. 

For projects not directly occupying water spaces, MWR suggested local authorities carefully assess their impacts on floodwaters and local ecology. 

The new policy is having an immediate impact on installed projects. The Tiangang Lake floating solar project in Jiangsu province was ordered to dismantle all solar equipment located in flood channels by the end of May, according to an industry WeChat account, and to remove and reform solar equipment in all other areas of the lake by the end of the year.

The 7.5 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion) project had been approved by China’s National Energy Administration in 2017 and already attained its environmental impact assessment. It had not, however, attained permission from water authorities. 

The dismantling of the 1 gigawatt project will not come without consequences in terms of investment and clean energy generating capacity. 

Read our earlier report by Fred Pearce on the global growth of floating solar.