Investors in alternative energy systems like wind and solar power could face extra costs and other inconveniences in northeast China's Heilongjiang province since the local government has adopted new rules to "nationalize" all climate resources in the province.
Some investors have complained about the unprecedented move by a provincial government to designate all climate resources as "state assets" and extend red tape.
On Aug. 1, the 25 articles in a statute for prospecting and protecting all climate resources in Heilongjiang will take effect. The rules drafted by the provincial government were ratified by the Heilongjiang Provincial People's Congress, the provincial legislature, on June 14.
The statute defines climate resources as "all natural resources that form the climatic environment and can be utilized in human activities concerning wind power, solar power, rainfall, atmospheric elements, and so on." It also stipulates that all these resources are national property under government control.
The new rules require energy companies to obtain permits from the provincial weather bureau before launching resource prospecting and actual development. All the equipment to be used by the developers and investors must also pass prior examination by the weather bureau.
Investors said the provincial statute, the first of its kind in China, will cost companies extra time because they have to deal with one more government agency in an already bureaucratic system, reported the Beijing-based Economic Observer. They said this is contrary to the central government's promise to cut red tape.
Corporate executives said the statute will also cost them a good deal of extra money because more rules mean more fees and fines to be paid as the provincial government seeks to expand its administrative powers and generate more revenue like permit fees and land rental income via the weather bureau. Companies planning to set up wind power and photovoltaic solar power plants anywhere in China have never had to get the nod from the weathermen before now.
The executives pointed out that Article 9 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China stipulates that "mineral resources, waters, forests, mountains, grassland, unreclaimed land, beaches and other natural resources are owned by the state, that is, by the whole people." But they argued that the Constitution does not specifically stipulate that wind power and solar power resources belong to the state.
Officials at the provincial weather bureau said the draft rules have been under discussion for three and a half years and the legislative program was delayed by opposition from the power industry. The new act is designed to rectify the current chaotic situation in which various companies carry out their own resource prospecting with different instruments and technological standards to create unscientific data and reports, they said.
They said that the weather bureau will not charge any administrative fees when issuing permits, though fines can be levied for violations of the statute in order to ensure orderly prospecting and development of alternative energy resources. The bureau will be authorized to instruct the companies to make necessary improvements and slap them with fines.
The statue and the added powers given to the weather bureau have won a degree of support from certain quarters. It is legal and reasonable to give weather bureau the authority over the wind and photovoltaic solar power industry and this has long been neglected, said Zhang Xiuzhi, an expert at the National Climate Centre of the China Meteorological Administration.
Zhang said all provincial weather bureaus have the most authoritative climate data and statistics related to their region and their involvement in the process can greatly improve the accuracy of prospecting and the operations wind power and photovoltaic power companies.
Meng Xian'gan of the China Renewable Energy Society commented that the new rules can help check the rampant practice of marking, enclosing and grabbing land as well as claiming business territory by enterprises.
If it faces strong protests from the electricity industry, the weather bureau could make amendments to the statute in the future. But officials also revealed that these may be just minor modifications with more precise terminology while the overall regulations will remain mainly unchanged.
China has now the world's biggest wind power industry while Heilongjiang is one of the top five provinces with the richest wind power resources in the country. The installed wind power capacity in the northeastern province bordering Russia reached 3,445.8 megawatts as of 2011 seventh among province-level regions behind Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Gansu, Liaoning, Shandong and adjacent Jilin.
Investors are now concerned that other provinces could set similar rules after Heilongjiang sets the precedent.
Zhang Xiuzhi 張秀芝
Meng Xian'gan 孟憲淦