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Solar power brings a brighter future for residents

By Yuan Hui and Hou Liqiang | China Daily | Updated: 2023-07-20 09:26
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Mulberries, a drought-resistant crop that can be used as fodder for livestock, are cultivated under and between the solar panels. [Photo provided to CHINA DAILY]

Before 2020, a coal mine dominated 2,800 hectares of Bartaat village, Ordos, Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

Even though mining operations have now ended, energy is still produced there. This time, instead of the black fuel, the area is outputting clean solar power.

With more than 1.1 million solar panels that cover almost half the area, the zone sparkles in the sun. Looking from a distance, visitors can see the lush greenery among the power-generation facilities. All this makes it hard for people to have any idea about its recent past, unless they are told.

The scene represents a workable solution to the issue of how to rehabilitate areas scarred by years of coal mining in a way that balances environmental health with economic development.

With a total investment of more than 2 billion yuan ($277 million), the project, named Tianjiao Green Power, can generate 900 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per annum, which was roughly enough to meet the electricity needs of 950,000 people last year, according to Inner Mongolia Yizheng New Energy Technology Development, the company that operates the project.

The facility has generated many environmental benefits and financial gains for local residents, such as Guo Jun, who described the area as "desolate" before the solar project was introduced.

"Coal was mined below ground and the surface was full of ravines. Although the company made greening efforts, the area still looked desolate," the 57-year-old said.

In stark contrast, numerous plants are now flourishing in the shade of and between the rows of solar panels.

In places that suffered surface collapse, small water channels and ponds were dug and plants were sown among them to expand the vegetation coverage.

The measures greatly curbed water and soil erosion, the company said, adding that to date about 1,640 hectares have been covered with drought-resistant plants, including alfalfa, mulberry, sea buckthorn and apple trees.

Along with many local residents, Guo has worked fixing photovoltaic panels, planting grass and trees, leveling the land and on irrigation projects. "The daily salary is about 220 yuan," he said.

According to local authorities, when the trees planted in the area start to bear fruit, they are expected to bring the villagers combined income of about 7 million yuan a year.

Zhang Jun, Bartaat's Party chief, said the project developer has pledged to contract some of the maintenance services for the solar power generation station to the village once construction is completed next year, including weeding, cleaning the panels and environmental cleanups.

That means the 400 jobless residents in the village will finally be employed, he said, adding that from next year every villager will receive an annual dividend of at least 1,000 yuan from the power generation project.

"We will be able to make consistent, stable incomes," he said.


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