All 14 gigantic turbo-generators of the Three Gorges Project began operating at full capacity at 8:44 a.m. on Wednesday.
Each generator is now able to churn out daily revenue of 4.2 million yuan (about 525,000 U.S.dollars), according to Ma Zhenbo, chief of the Three Gorges Hydropower Plant.
The units had been generating 550,000 kw/hour of electricity since being commissioned in July 2003. But the figure has now been bumped up to 700,000 kw/hour, enough for a city with a population of one million.
The Three Gorges Hydropower Plant has produced 38.8 billion kw/hour of electricity since the beginning of the year and will generate 53.1 billion kw/hour of electricity this year.
The water level in the Three Gorges Reservoir began to rise on Sept. 20. It nudged 153.79 meters on Wednesday and is expected to reach the 156 meter mark on Saturday.
According to the original design, a water level of 148 meters is required for full generation capacity.
Ma said Wednesday it marked a milestone in the history of hydropower development in China.
Ma Hongqi, a hydro-electric specialist and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said most of China's hydropower projects are being built in west China. Construction activity would peak during the 11th Five-Year-Plan period (2006-2010) and there would be another peak from 2012 to 2016 when many of the projects begin generating.
Only 24 percent of the country's hydro-electric resources -- mainly rivers in west China -- are utilized but this figure is expected to climb to 40 percent by 2010, said Ma Hongqi.
By 2010, China will have more hydro-electric plant capacity than any other country in the world. The 125 million kw of hydro-electric power will account for 19 percent of total national power generation capacity.
About 1.16 million people have been relocated since construction of the Three Gorges Project began in 1993. The dam is 2,309 meters wide and 185 meters high. Twenty-six 700,000 kw power generators line the two banks of the river, and there is a five-tier, dual-track ship lock.
Yang Ya, accountant-in-chief with the China Yangtze River Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, said the total investment in constructing the Three Gorges Project would not exceed 180 billion yuan (about 22.5 billion U.S. dollars).
"Electricity produced by the Three Gorges Hydropower Plant goes on stream at a price of 0.25 yuan per kw/hour, so we will recover the investment when the project has generated one trillion kw/hour of electricity, which might occur between 2015 and 2017," said Yang.
The Three Gorges Project, with a 39.3 billion cu m reservoir, is expected to be finished in 2008, one year ahead of schedule, and will be able to produce 84.7 billion kw/h of electricity annually.
Workers have completed the dam, the 14 generating units on the northern bank and most of the ship lock system, which is in service.
Construction of the 12 generating units on the southern bank of the Yangtze is underway.
Traffic in the dam area has been restricted to one direction, alternating every 24 hours, since Sept. 15 when work began on a year-long project to raise the beds of the two topmost tiers of the ship lock from 131 to 139 meters. This will ensure safe navigation when the dam water level rises to 156 and finally to 175 meters.
By Wednesday, the plant had produced 135.6 billion kw/hour of electricity, earning more than 25 billion yuan (3.13 billion U.S. dollars) in revenue. The electricity has been transmitted to 15 provinces and municipalities in the eastern, central, southern, western parts of the country.