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Stars and moon save money, say officials

OFFICIALS in a mountainous county in northwest China have defended the local government's 2.1-million-yuan (US$307,220.61) "moonlight town" project describing it as environmentally friendly and economically efficient.

Fengxian County of Shaanxi Province's Baoji City has installed more than 3,300 lights on four mountains around the county so that they look like twinkling stars and a 5-square-meter LED board that looks like the moon. But the project has provoked public criticism with people saying it is just window dressing by the local government.

An unnamed tourism official told that the lighting project, which uses solar power technology, is environmentally friendly and efficient.

It is cheap compared with traditional power generating technology, which could have cost 4.7 million yuan, he said.

With this green technology, 200,000 yuan can be saved in electricity fee in three years, he added.

The lighting project has generated funds worth 10 times its cost, Fengxian's director Li Zhiyuan said in earlier media reports.

The project is part of the local government's 650-million-yuan program to boost local tourism, according to the director.

The county needed economic restructuring to alleviate its heavy reliance on the mining industry, he explained.

The county, with reserves of 350 tons of lead zinc, is one of China's major four lead zinc ore mine bases. Up to 90 percent of its general domestic product had been generated by the mining industry, Li said.

The director described the tourism development strategy as a success, saying the income from tourism reached 430 million yuan last year, more than double the amount raised in 2006 when it started the campaign.

Tourism now accounts for a quarter of the local economy, he noted. Officials from more than 80 counties from across the country have visited Fengxian to learn from its success, he said.

However, many of the county's moves to develop tourism have roused public criticism.

Last October, the government encouraged local Han ethnic people to reregister as ethnic Qiangs to boost the Qiang minority culture.

But this policy was canceled early this year after media reports had attracted negative comments. Only 300 of the 120,000 population in the county were originally ethnic Qiang, according to government data.

The government also restyled some local residences in the traditional housing styles of east China's Anhui Province, which some regarded as just a cultural simulation.


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