30 july 2009

Beijing closing coal plants in environmental move

Associated Press, July 30, 2009

BEIJING – China has taken advantage of a drop in electricity demand due to the global financial crisis to speed up a campaign to close small coal-fired power plants and improve its battered environment, an official said Thursday.

Authorities have closed power plants with a total of 7,467 generating units, meeting a previously announced goal 18 months ahead of schedule, said Sun Qin, deputy administrator of the Cabinet's National Energy Administration.

"This couldn't be done when power demand was very intense," Sun said at a news conference. "Due to this financial crisis, the power generation has slowed down, so we took this opportunity to accelerate the shutdown."

Beijing is trying to improve its energy efficiency and reduce surging demand for imported oil and gas by closing smaller, less efficient power plants and encouraging use of wind, solar and other clean sources.

The latest closures will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain by an estimated 1.1 million tons and carbon dioxide output by 124 million tons per year, Sun said. He said the closures involved moving 400,000 workers to new jobs.

China and the United States are the world's biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" that scientists say trap the sun's heat and are altering the climate.

China produced 6.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2006, according to a study by the Netherlands' Environmental Assessment Agency.

Beijing says it is committed to reducing pollution but has resisted pressure to adopt binding goals to reduce its greenhouse gas output, saying the onus is on developed countries to reduce their emissions.

The Chinese government's top priority in closing coal-fired power plants is controlling sulfur dioxide emissions. Acid rain from heavy coal use has poisoned most of its rivers and lakes and badly damaged its forests.

Sun said environmental officials will meet in August to make plans to close more small coal-fired power plants.

In a reflection of the tensions between Chinese environmental regulators and local authorities over the loss of jobs and economic activity, an official of Sun's agency, Xu Yongsheng, said seven local officials and company managers were punished for restarting power plants after the agency closed them.

China relies on coal for about 60 percent of its power.

The Finance Ministry announced an initiative last week to promote development of China's solar power industry, promising to pay up to 70 percent of the cost of new solar systems.


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