China is preparing to expand nationwide a ban on new coal plant construction announced in April in an attempt to further rein in overcapacity and boost utilization of renewable energy, according to a report in Australian Financial Review.

This spring, China’s National Development and Reform Commission and National Energy Administration suspended or slowed plans for more than 100 GW of coal-fired capacity across the country, affecting around 200 plants. The country’s electricity demand has slowed considerably as its economic growth has flattened. Chinese coal imports have plummeted over the same period, falling 30% in 2015.

Chinese-language news site Economic Information Daily, part of the official Xinhua news agency, reports that the forthcoming 13th Five-Year Plan, which will be released this year, will extend the ban on new coal plant construction nationwide at least through 2018.

China has been working in recent years to reduce reliance on coal and boost generation from nuclear and renewables. The nation has suffered from serious air pollution problems, most of which have been blamed on emissions from older coal plants.

At the same time, generation from wind has lagged badly. Despite leading the world in installed wind capacity, its total generation from wind in 2015 was behind the U.S., which has around half China’s capacity. Wind power in China is often curtailed because of transmission constraints and local authorities that favor generation from coal.

China has also committed to aggressive reductions in the carbon intensity of its economy as part of the Paris climate agreement. Because its targets are pegged to its gross domestic product, an economic slowdown means the nation must move more quickly to reduce the share of coal generation in the power mix.

The ban on coal plants may also give a boost to natural gas, which is pegged to reach 10% of the mix by 2020 in China’s climate targets.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).