Coal, which has nearly done in Beijing, is soon to be done itself in Beijing. China is cutting pollution in an effort to lose its role as the world’s largest carbon emitter and also clean up the air its citizens breathe. Next year, the last of Bejing’s four major coal-fired power plants will completely shut down. China Huaneng Group Corp.’s 845-megawatt power plant will close in 2016. Plants owned by Guohua Electric Power Corp. and Beijing Energy Investment Holding Co. closed this month according to a statement on the website of the city’s economic planning agency. Last year, a major power plant owned by China Datang Corp. also shut down.
Bloomberg Business reports that “the facilities will be replaced by four gas-fired stations with a capacity to supply 2.6 times more electricity than the coal plants.”
A trend in China is taking hold, no doubt an outcome of the country’s infamy as a major polluter — a byproduct of high-speed, unchecked economic growth. Pressure at home, where people want breathable air — something China is short on — combined with pressure abroad enforces the shift. Policymakers have to immediately work to blunt sources of pollutants and resolve the environmental damage. According to Bloomberg Business, “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.”
“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.”
Being the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, coal is a major lead of carbon-dioxide emissions. It is terribly toxic to the country as well. In many areas, the blackened clouds necessitate masks to breathe. Cutting coal use is an essential step in addressing pollution in China. China has about 64% of its primary energy use coming from from coal, according to Bloomberg Business.
China’s electricity consumption did grow last year, as it has for decades, but it slowed to the lowest growth rate of the last 16 years, according to data from the China Electricity Council. Furthermore, CO2 emissions fell 2% in 2014 compared to 2013 — according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimate based on preliminary energy demand data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. That’s the country’s first drop in emissions since 2001.
It seems that the pressure to protect its people from deadly air pollution must be the biggest portion of the push to retire coal. Heavy smog looming in large skies makes air pollution there some of the worst in the world, and there has been increasing public attention to it in the past few years as it enveloped the whole of China, Beijing, and Shanghai. In a report from China’s National Bureau of Statistics earlier this month, it is estimated “90 percent of the 161 cities whose air quality was monitored in 2014 failed to meet official standards. 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.”
According to Bloomberg News, “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.”
So change is peeking out of the dark clouds. It is simply not soon enough for the safety of the most vulnerable populations — however, nice to know China is finally changing for the better. As CleanTechnica reported when writing about the results of the closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China, that led to great improvements in children’s health:
“The key to limiting the health impacts of environmental exposures is the policy change supported by scientific evidence. These findings indicate that regulation can rapidly decrease exposure and improve health outcomes among the most sensitive populations, providing support for implementing additional measures such as the closure of the Tongliang coal-fired power plant,” stated Dr Tang, director of the China studies at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health and associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School.