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Story IV —— Green Development in Haiyuan: From Ecological Imbalance to Desert Oasis

Li Xiaojun Safety Supervision Manager, EHS Department, CR Power Ningxia Company
  • During the spring of 2016, CR Power's employees were working tirelessly on the construction of the Xihuashan wind farm in Haiyuan. This marked the launch of CR Power's irst wind power project in Haiyuan, Ningxia. At the time, Haiyuan was frequently besieged by sandstorms during the spring months.

    The site workers would often return from the mountains with their eyes, noses, ears, and mouths illed with sand and dust, jokingly referring to it as a "sand bath."

    Today, this rarely happens. In the seven years since CR Power arrived in Haiyuan, the county has transformed from an ecologically unbalanced area to a lourishing desert oasis.

    Protecting Ecology and Coexisting with Nature

    Haiyuan, under the jurisdiction of Zhongwei City in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is located in the Xihaigu area, known as "the most barren area in the world". It was once evaluated by the Food Development Programme of the United Nations as "one of the most unsuitable areas for human survival" globally. For a long time, Haiyuan has been hit by frequent droughts and then fallen into the vicious cycle of "population increase–land reclamation–ecological destruction–poverty–population increase", triggering serious ecological problems.

    Ren Kaigui, Chief Civil Engineer, Engineering Department, CR Power Ningxia Company.

    "At the beginning of 2015, we just came to Haiyuan. Back then, we could not even ind an oice," recalled Ren Kaigui, Chief Civil Engineer of Ningxia Company's engineering department. "Tap water was limited and there were only dry toilets. On top of that, there were no train stations or highways in the county – the only way in was via two roads."

    The harsh natural environment and unfavorable transportation conditions presented a signiicant challenge during the construction of local wind power projects. To ensure constructionprogress during the winter, Ren Kaigui's team constructed greenhouses with 20-meter diameters around each wind turbine and made ires to keep them warm. Due to the low temperatures, the concrete used in construction had to be transported while wrapped in quilts, and once poured, it was kept warm using electric blankets and quilts.

    Despite facing severe weather conditions such as cold temperatures, sandstorms, and blizzards, the Xihuashan Wind Farm, CR Power's irst wind power project in Haiyuan, has emerged as one of CR Power's top ive most proitable projects. Along with the later constructed Guaguashan Wind Farm, it has set a benchmark for the development of clean energy, with reasonable utilization hours exceeding the industry's minimum of 1,800 hours and reaching over 3,000 hours. Presently, Ningxia Company operates six wind power projects with an installed capacity of 760,000 kilowatts.

    "How windy was it here? In the past, we had to close our doors and windows during windy days, otherwise, dust would loat into our bowls," a local resident explained. "Now, annoying winds like that have become a rare phenomenon."

    Following the irst phase of the Xihuashan Project, CR Power decided to revert to traditional methods of "horse transportation and manual digging" in wind power projects to minimize the damage of new energy projects to the local ecological environment. Li Xiaojun, the Safety Supervision Manager of Ningxia Company's EHS department, explained, "After adopting horse transport, we didn't extensively excavate roads and change the original landform. Similarly, the excavation area will be expanded if mechanical excavation is used, while manual excavation can reduce our damage to the vegetation."

    Despite the extended construction period of over ive months, the use of horses to transport construction materials up the mountain left almost no traces. CR Power Ningxia Company remains committed to using this method in the subsequent construction of new energy projects. This decision is aimed at breaking the vicious cycle of Haiyuan's ecology and promoting the coordinated development of the area's economy and ecology.

    Planting Trees to Beneit the People

    In 2016 when the Xihuashan wind power project in Haiyuan commenced, CR Power donated RMB 12 million for targeted assistance to the 1,500-mu expansion project of Pailushan Forest Park in Haiyuan County. In this project, a large area of hickory peaches, hickory apricots, broadleaf forests, and coniferous forests were planted. "The local people come and watch lowers in spring, pick some fruits in summer, and enjoy the beautiful scenery in fall," Li Xiaojun proudly said. Nowadays, Pailushan Forest Park has become a popular scenic spot in Haiyuan.

    This is one of the signiicant poverty alleviation tasks through public welfare outlined in the CRH's Five-Year Plan (2014-2018) for Targeted Assistance to Haiyuan County. In this regard, CR Power pledged to donate RMB 2 million to the county government for the construction of ecological charity forests for each 50 MW new energy project it constructed in Haiyuan. As of 2022, CR Power has donated a total of RMB 28.4 million to Haiyuan County, resulting in the planting of 1,686 mu of ecological charity forests.

    CR Power's Guaguashan 200MW Wind Farm in Haiyuan, Ningxia has achieved remarkable results in greening.

    In 2020, CR Power Ningxia Company initiated the "Greening Campaign" to improve the land surrounding nine wind farms. Ren Kaigui was also designated as the person in charge of this project. Guided by the local government, he led the team to plant trees and grasses, such as peach trees, apricot trees, spruce, ice grass and alfalfa, in accordance with local conditions.

    The three-year campaign aims to attain over 90% vegetation cover in the area. "We are sowing grass seeds to ensure the survival rate of plants on all land near the roads," noted Ren Kaigui. "Currently, more than 6,000 trees have survived."

    A veteran employee who participated in the wind power project of Ningxia Company remarked, "In the past, sand and stones would ly around on windy days, but now the spring breeze blows gently. Today, when you drive around Haiyuan, you can see green plants growing under the huge wind turbines."

    Local residents have also engaged in vegetation restoration and greening. Ren Kaigui's team even adopted their opinions and revised its design plan in time. "They have lived in this land for a lifetime, so they know how to plant (trees) efectively and they also have some experience. This is the village where they live, and is also their home", explained Ren Kaigui.

    The photovoltaic power plant has not only generated electricity but also changed the exposure of the previously barren land to direct sunlight, creating favorable environmental conditions for the growth of vegetation. As a result, in the same year that the campaign was launched, CR Power Ningxia Company began exploring a new model of "mushroom photovoltaic complementation and agriculture-photovoltaic complementation" in Xianghe Village, Xinghai Town, Dawukou District. With the shade provided by the photovoltaic panels, it has become possible to cultivate drought-resistant herbs such as mushrooms and honeysuckle.

    "It provides a broader income source for the local people," pointed out Li Xiaojun. At present, nearly 6,500 persons have beneited from mushroom photovoltaic complementation, and their annual income has reached RMB 3 to 4 million.

    As CR Power continues to integrate poverty alleviation and rural revitalization eforts, projects and models such as greening and agriculture-photovoltaic complementation are being further promoted. According to Li Xiaojun, "We hope to promote the replication of the industrial model of ecological charity forests and form a new model of 'ecological restoration+photovoltaic governance'. This will help advance work on water conservation, windbreaks, sand ixing, and mine restoration."

    "Our aim in every photovoltaic project is to create a power station that is both eicient and beautiful," remarked Ren Kaigui.

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