Construction of the giant Longtan Hydroelectric power plant is to begin on schedule next month, according to a regional government spokesman today. Due for completion in 2009, Longtan will be the second largest such plant in Asia, after the Three Gorges project on the Yangtze River.

Situated on the Hongshui River in Tian’e County, in south China’s Guangxi province, the Longtan hydropower project is just one of the tiered hydropower stations planned to explore rich hydroelectric resources on the river, or the upper reaches of the Pearl River.

It will have a combined installed capacity of 4200 MW for early-stage development and will be able to generate 15 TWh of electricity a year on completion. The first generator at the hydropower project will be able to generate electricity in June 2007.

The Longtan project is estimated to cost 26.4 billion yuan ($3.2 bn) of which 19.76 billion yuan ($2.38 billion) will be covered by loans provided by four Chinese banks, including the Bank of China (BOC) and the China Construction Bank.

The Longtan hydropower station will be a key part in the national power grid, said Pan Jiazheng, a well-known hydropower expert who is also vice president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. It will play an important role in the country’s drive to send electricity from resource-rich western regions to economically developed eastern areas.

Pan added that the project would promote local economic development and benefit 10 million local residents who live in poverty-hit areas of Guangxi and Guizhou Province along both banks of the Hongshui River.