STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
At the Copenhagen climate summit, many people are looking at China, which is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. China has announced that it hopes to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020. Beijing is building the world's biggest wind power project. All that sounds impressive, but as NPR's Louisa Lim discovered, adding wind power in China also means adding new polluting power stations.
(SOUNDBITE OF WIND)
LOUISA LIM: I've been driven out here by Zhang Huayao. He's an engineer who spent almost two years building this wind farm in remote Jiuquan in Gansu province in the far west of the country. Like most of China's wind farms, it's far from the massive cities that need the electricity. He's brimming with enthusiasm.
ZHANG HUAYAO: (Through Translator) Of course I'm proud. This is the first wind farm on the Three Gorges on the Land 10 gigawatt mega-project.
LIM: Li Geping earns $8 a day road building. She loves the wind turbines.
LI GEPING: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: Back in a spotless control room, as we sit alongside blue-suited technicians monitoring the brand-spanking new computer system, he admits to another problem.
HUAYAO: (Through Translator) It's a beautiful day today, but there's no wind. There's very little wind at all.
LIM: The local economic planner, Wang Jianxin, chairman of the Jiuquan Development and Reform Commission, says adding more polluting coal-fired power plants is unavoidable if you want to be green.
WANG JIANXIN: (Through Translator) There's no such thing as a free lunch. We're trying to get the best benefit for the lowest cost. But nothing happens without a sacrifice, and this is a necessary cost.
LIM: In many parts of China, the transmission network can't cope with the rapid growth in renewable energy. But economic planner Wang Jianxin says these are just teething problems.
JIANXIN: (Through Translator) If someone who wanted to buy a car waited for roads to be built first, and road builders waited for enough cars to be bought before building a road, then nothing would ever happen. Here, sometimes the power stations are built faster than the grid. Sometimes the grid is built faster.
LIM: The local government will spend almost $1.5 billion in the next year, laying just 450 miles of ultra-high voltage cables that will eventually deliver the electricity to populated areas. This will be part of the world's first large-scale, ultra-high voltage grid. It's an investment that highlights China's green revolution, which Jonathan Woetzel has been charting for McKinsey Investments. He argues having turbines blowing aimlessly in the wind isn't necessarily wasted effort.
JONATHAN WOETZEL: Not if your intent was to ensure that you built an industry. The intent of the government is also not only that these are farms that are built and operated, but they're also - that the equipment itself is Chinese-made and the technology is developed in China, and that ultimately it becomes a global industry, that China will become the exporters of wind technology to the world.
LIM: Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
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