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Energy brings wealth to west China

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URUMQI, May 20 (Xinhua) -- While on a break from his university studies, Li Boyuan visited his hometown in Qerchen County, located in the Tarim Desert in China's far west, and was surprised to see that the streets once left dark due to power shortages are now bathed in light.

A lack of adequate funding for power plant construction in the past left the small town unable to access the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's massive power resources.

But now a national energy transmission network aiming to bring electricity, oil and coal to the booming coastal areas is also bringing benefits to underdeveloped counties in western China, including Qerchen.

"We used to rely on a small hydro-power station and a gas power plant. We had to ration power in winter when the river froze," Li said.

The inconveniences brought by power shortages stopped a month ago when a power transmission project, which was funded by increased government revenues from energy sales, began operating.

Luo Zhiguo, a jujube farmer in neighboring Qarklik County, plans to build a refrigerator this year. "Thanks to the stable power supply, the annual profits are expected to grow by 25 percent to 1 million yuan (about 158,028 U.S. dollars)."

On May 13, construction began on an 800 KV ultra-high-voltage power transmission line with the world's largest designed capacity. The 2,210-km line, which connects southern Luntai county and Xinjiang's energy base Hami with the central city of Zhengzhou, Henan Province, will have the designed transmission capacity of a world-record-setting 8 million KW upon its completion in 2014.

The construction boom on ultra-high-voltage power transmission lines comes amid the country's efforts to transmit electricity from the energy-rich west to the booming central and eastern regions. It has also proved a boon for local economic development.

Local governments' purses are expanding thanks to energy sales and a resource tax, which, rolled out in June 2010, allowed Xinjiang to levy a 5-percent tax on the region's sales values of oil and gas. The resource tax has added about 3.6 billion yuan to local government revenues annually, official data shows.

Xiao Renjun, head of the energy office with the provincial economic planning body, said the construction of the energy network has played a positive role in attracting investment, providing jobs and boosting downstream industries.

The ultra-high-voltage power grid projects have spurred power plant construction. A total of 36 million KW of thermal power and 10 million KW of wind power are to be installed in Xinjiang by the State Grid, China's grid-building giant, according to Xiao.

"It could attract investment of 300 billion yuan and create 30,000 jobs," Xiao said.

In the meantime, Baicheng County in Xinjiang's Aksu Prefecture is using pipelines to supply eastern China with the county's rich natural gas resources. The county's fiscal revenue has jumped more than 18 times, from 40 million yuan in 2003 to 754 million yuan in 2011.

The increase in fiscal revenue has boosted local governments' abilities to channel more money into social projects, thus substantially improving the lives of local people.

According to statistics released by the regional government, 167.1 billion yuan, or 30 percent of the budgeted fiscal expenditure, was spent on improving people's living standards in 2011.

As a result, by the end of 2011, more than 1.2 million farmers and herdsmen moved into government-subsidized and quake-resistant housing that boasts access to tap water, electricity and natural gas -- amenities many of the new residents had never dreamed of.

More than 6 million people, or 90 percent of residents in cities and towns, have been covered by government-subsidized medical insurance.

In Hotan Prefecture 99.66 percent of school-aged children are now attending primary school, although many used to drop out due to poverty.

About 74 percent of junior high school graduates matriculate into high schools, up from 10 percent just five years ago, according to statistics released by the education bureau of Hotan Prefecture.

Meanwhile, Li Boyuan is currently studying in a college in coastal Jiangsu Province, an industrial, developed area that has also been plagued by power shortages.

"The energy transmission project is bringing adequate power and wealth for both China's west and east. It's a win-win scenario." Li said.

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