Friday, 13 February 2009

Powering Up

Lamma's Power Station - Three Chimneys

When I started this blog I didn't envisage that so many of the posts would be environmentally focussed, but that's the sector I'm currently working in, so I suppose it's inevitable that my mind should be pointing in that direction.

Anyway, had a very interesting chat with the environmental officer of China Light and Power at a networking function last night. The conversation (as so many seem to) had already swung round to pollution before we found out what she did and she was then very nervous when I asked; she usually gets abuse from people who blame CLP and HK Electric for the terrible pollution here. Unfortunately, as this lady pointed out, it's not as clear-cut as that. The trouble is that a simplistic view of the situation shows that, now industry has almost entirely fled across the border into the Mainland, the power companies are the only major emitters left. So the choking smog must be their fault, right?

Wrong. That ignores the fact that while industry has indeed relocated into China proper, it didn't go far. So now factories that were previously regulated by Hong Kong emission standards are just across the border in Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta. And of course the wind blowing into Hong Kong from the PRD doesn't respect (semi-)international borders, so along come all the nasties too.

One question I had to ask, even though the power station on Lamma is run by HK Electric rather than CLP, concerns one of the first stories I heard on arrival in Hong Kong. Just after choosing an easy to remember phone number consisting almost entirely of fours I found out about the superstition that (because it sounds like death) the number four is considered very unlucky here. An example related to me involved the Lamma power station, which supposedly started life with five chimneys. Soon it was decided that this was well over capacity, so one of the smokestacks was demolished. However, so unlucky were the remaining four chimneys considered that another was knocked down to leave the three standing today. CLP didn't know anything about this, so I have done some digging today.

It turns out, much as I would have loved to believe the story, that there is no evidence to back it up. Long-time residents can probably help me out here, but I think the Lamma power station was built with, and has only ever had, three chimneys.

Funnily enough, though, I did find a similar story that is true. HK Electric, who run the Lamma power station and supply energy to Lamma, Hong Kong Island, and Ap Lei Chau, used to run a power station on Ap Lei Chau. When it was brought online in 1968, this power station also had three smokestacks. The local community, however, were up in arms because of the similarities between the chimneys and the incense sticks used in ancestor worship and at funerals. In response, HK Electric did indeed build an additional, unused, chimney!

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