China Cancels 2-GW Coal Plant on Pollution Concerns

In a noteworthy measure this August, Chinese authorities scrapped proposals for a 2-GW coal-fired power plant, citing—for the first time—concerns about air pollution. And as the authorities in Baguang, eastern Shenzhen, asked the Shenzhen Energy Group to stop preparatory work for construction of the new coal-fired plant, the city announced it would not put forward any new plans to build coal power plants in the future.

The development is noteworthy because China has plans to build up to 558 GW of new coal-fired capacity in China—representing a 73% increase in the energy-intensive nation’s 2011 thermal power capacity—according to the World Research Institute. But it does not come entirely as a surprise because the nation has been taking astonishing strides to address its widespread pollution problems.

In March, the country’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) called for greater efforts to reduce the discharge of major pollutants. Since then, small gains have been seen as filters have been installed on its massive coal-fired power fleet. The Ministry of Environmental Protection also recently said it would hold accountable those officials who fail in their duty to cope with air pollution this winter.

On the renewables front, China as a whole has also made gains. It has established a goal of increasing its use of nonfossil energy to 15% of primary energy consumption by 2020 and has greatly increased wind power over the past several years.

Meanwhile, Beijing in September unveiled another set of measures, including limiting the number of new vehicles on the roads and closing or upgrading the facilities of nearly 1,200 companies, to curb its own pollution problems, which have in the past set off international alarms. The city experienced the worst of bouts of dense smog that enveloped half the country in January, recording peak fine particulate levels of 993 micrograms per cubic meter—almost 40 times more than the World Health Organization’s 24-hour average standard (Figure 2).

2. In a haze. China has made astonishing strides in addressing widespread air pollution concerns. This image shows air pollution at Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong in 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pollution concerns are resulting in rigid policy measures from a number of surprising countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin in July signed new rules to drastically increase financial penalties for breaking national and air water pollution laws. The new rules, applicable to businesses, sole proprietors, organizations, legal entities, and officials within those legal entities, seek to help the country transition to cleaner technologies, according to some experts. Others say the higher fines may appease the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which has recommended Russia increase sanctions to reduce illegal pollution as part of its admittance to the organization that oversees the International Energy Agency.

And in June, the U.S. released a climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions about 17% below 2005 levels if all other major economies agreed to limit their emissions as well. Measures outlined in the plan include directing the Environmental Protection Agency to work “expeditiously” to complete carbon pollution standards proposed in April 2012 for new power plants—and to set up carbon rules for existing plants.