New energy geographies: powershed politics and hydropower decision making in Yunnan, China
This study analyzes decision making related to large-scale hydropower in China's Yunnan Province. The study has five aims: to contribute empirical knowledge about hydropower development on the Lancang (upper Mekong) and Nu (upper Salween) Rivers; to explain the institutional, legal, and political economic factors affecting decisions about large-scale hydropower; to use the peculiarities of water to complicate models of center-local and interprovincial relations; to underscore the importance of geographic constructs in framing and legitimizing certain development patterns; and to contribute to debates on China's "civil society."After reviewing literature in political ecology, China geography and area studies, and scale theory, I develop an analytical framework called a powershed. Like a watershed, a powershed reflects a space over which a resource is collected. It also has political meaning: first, as a way of understanding how policies and investments are deployed to facilitate electric power transfers from Yunnan to Guangdong; and second, as a means for signaling the importance of geographic constructs in legitimizing certain discourses, actions, actors, and policies while de-legitimizing others. Most importantly, it provides a dynamic, context-specific analytical framework that enables us to trace the processes of hydropower development. Next, I provide details of Lancang and Nu hydropower and of the energy geographies to which the projects belong.My analysis picks apart decision flows from blueprint to dam, identifying two distinctly different perspectives. I conclude by arguing first that supra-provincial institutions such as watershed commissions, hydropower companies, and grid companies are important in shaping relations between Guangdong and Yunnan vis-a-vis electricity production, distribution, and consumption. A corollary is that reforms in the electricity and water sectors have created overlapping responsibilities and unclear jurisdiction among institutions charged with water resources oversight. Second, social organizations and academic institutions are increasingly important in society-environment decision making if only for their ability to alter the terms of debate. Finally, hydropower development in "rural" Yunnan must be understood in a context of urbanization and industrialization processes in Guangdong. This study advances the application of political ecology to the study of China and solidifies the link between scale theory and spatial administrative models of China.
- Geography