Beijing to Shut All Major Coal Power Plants to Cut Pollution

Beijing, where pollution averaged more than twice China’s national standard last year, will close the last of its four major coal-fired power plants next year.

The capital city will shutter China Huaneng Group Corp.’s 845-megawatt power plant in 2016, after last week closing plants owned by Guohua Electric Power Corp. and Beijing Energy Investment Holding Co., according to a statement Monday on the website of the city’s economic planning agency. A fourth major power plant, owned by China Datang Corp., was shut last year.

The facilities will be replaced by four gas-fired stations with capacity to supply 2.6 times more electricity than the coal plants.

The closures are part of a broader trend in China, which is the world’s biggest carbon emitter. Facing pressure at home and abroad, policy makers are racing to address the environmental damage seen as a byproduct of breakneck economic growth. Beijing plans to cut annual coal consumption by 13 million metric tons by 2017 from the 2012 level in a bid to slash the concentration of pollutants.

Shutting all the major coal power plants in the city, equivalent to reducing annual coal use by 9.2 million metric tons, is estimated to cut carbon emissions of about 30 million tons, said Tian Miao, a Beijing-based analyst at North Square Blue Oak Ltd., a London-based research company with a focus on China.

‘Clear Impact’

“Most pollutants come from burning coal, so the closure will have a clear impact to reduce emissions,” Tian said. “The replacement with natural gas will be much cleaner with less pollution, though with a bit higher cost.”

Nationally, China planned to close more than 2,000 smaller coal mines from 2013 to the end of this year, Song Yuanming, vice chief of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said at a news conference in July.

Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel and the leading source of carbon-dioxide emissions.

In the 10 years to 2013, coal demand globally grew by more than 50 percent, meeting almost half of the increase in the world’s total primary energy needs, the International Energy Agency said in its annual energy outlook report last year. China was the principal source of the surge, the IEA said.

Broader Trend

Closing coal-fired power plants is seen as a critical step in addressing pollution in China, which gets about 64 percent of the primary energy it uses from the fossil fuel. Coal accounts for about 30 percent of the U.S.’s electricity mix, while gas comprises 42 percent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

Coal use is declining or slowing in China as policy makers encourage broader use of hydroelectric power, solar and wind. The nation is also pushing to restart its nuclear power program in a bid to clear the skies. China’s electricity consumption last year grew at its slowest pace in 16 years, according to data from the China Electricity Council.

The nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide fell 2 percent last year from 2013, the first decline since 2001, signaling that efforts to control pollution are gaining traction, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimate based on preliminary energy demand data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Air pollution has attracted more public attention in the past few years as heavy smog envelops swathes of the nation including Beijing and Shanghai. About 90 percent of the 161 cities whose air quality was monitored in 2014 failed to meet official standards, according to a report by China’s National Bureau of Statistics earlier this month.

The level of PM2.5, the small particles that pose the greatest risk to human health, averaged 85.9 micrograms per cubic meter last year in the capital, compared with the national standard of 35.

The city also aims to take other measures such as closing polluted companies and cutting cement production capacity to clear the air this year, according to the Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

Copyright 2015 Bloomberg

Lead image: Coal plant. Credit: Shutterstock.

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