China reveals 2016 coal power crackdown

Beijing government says it is starting to cancel coal projects, but critics say country is wasting billions on polluting capacity it does not require

Beijing's air pollution has prompted action to reduce emissions by the Chinese government (Pic: J Aaron Farr/Flickr)

Beijing's air pollution has prompted action to reduce emissions by the Chinese government (Pic: J Aaron Farr/Flickr)

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China cancelled 12.4 gigawatts of planned coal power in 2016, according to an annual review of economic progress published this week.

The National Energy Administration said 15 coal projects were cancelled across eight regions, which included Guangdong, Sichuan and Yunnan.

It cited the need to address “excess coal capacity” and a requirement to “accelerate the development of non-fossil energy” as reasons behind the measures.

Coal supplies two-thirds of China’s electricity needs, but power plants operated at an average capacity of 46% through 2016, a figure which could fall to 30% by 2030.

Still, around 200 coal plants with a capacity of 150GW were in stages of planning through 2016, according to a briefing note from analysts at Wood Mackenzie.

“Pressure to build and operate these [new] plants is high,” says the briefing.

“Many of them are in coal-rich provinces such as Inner Mongolia and Shanxi where officials hope the new plants will absorb excess local coal. But their addition to the fleet will only make a bad situation worse.”

Despite plans from central government to cut coal capacity and invest in renewables, China remains on course to plough $500 billion in new coal capacity says the Carbon Tracker Initiative, which tracks investments in fossil fuel infrastructure.

“China no longer needs to build any additional coal plants and therefore should act with conviction to contain its coal overcapacity crisis,” it warned in a report last month.

Toxic smog linked to coal use has blighted parts of northern and central China through December, forcing the Beijing city administration to declare a “red alert” ahead of Christmas.

According to the environment ministry 21 other cities also declared emergencies, closing nurseries and primary schools, shutting down factories and forcing some cars off the road.

“Coal is the No 1 source,” Greenpeace China campaigner Dong Linsai told the Guardian.

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