As coal use falls, China still issues permits for coal-fired power plants

Blamed for dire pollution, coal makes up two-thirds of China’s energy consumption

China has issued 155 coal-fired power plants, generally blamed as one of the chief reasons for the country's dire pollution problems, environmental permits in the first nine months of this year.

Although last year saw the first decline in China’s coal output after 15 years of consecutive growth, coal still accounted for 66 per cent of the country’s energy consumption.

The fall was accompanied by record increases in power generation from hydropower, wind, solar, nuclear and gas, along with slower power consumption growth.

However, power companies are investing in coal-power plants because so much of the economy is built on investment in infrastructure such as power plants.


The plants will merely add to a severe overcapacity problem and add to the burden of public debt, the environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement.

If they do go into operation, however, the plants would have significant environmental and health impacts, and Greenpeace East Asia has called for an immediate ban on issuing permits to new coal-fired power plants.

"As coal consumption declines and China steps up its climate commitments, state-owned companies are blindly investing in a polluting, water intensive and outmoded form of power generation," said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global campaigner on coal.

“Money which should be invested in renewables is simply being poured down the drain,” he added.

Terrible problems

The report comes as China’s northeast again wrestles with terrible pollution problems.


has been badly polluted for days now, and in the city of Shenyang readings were about 50 times higher than that considered safe by the

World Health Organisation


Some 66 out of 74 cities in China fell short of government standards for concentrations of pollutants.

The report comes just weeks before the United Nations climate change conference in Paris.

President Xi Jinping and US president Barack Obama have agreed that they will make a deal where China's CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and China has focused on developing renewable alternatives. But coal remains cheap and easy and it's difficult to convince local governments to look at alternatives.

China has set strict energy targets for 2020 and has also introduced a number of air pollution action plans for 2017.

According to an investigation by Greenpeace East Asia, the total expenditure on the 155 projects could reach an estimated 470 billion yuan (€69 billion) and add up to 40 per cent of the state-owned companies involved.

According to Greenpeace projections, the yearly CO2 emissions from the 155 projects would be equal to 6 per cent of China's current emissions, or to the total energy-related emissions of Brazil. Over an assumed operating life of 24 years, the plants would emit 1.4 times China's annual emissions.

The toxic particulate emissions from the projects would be larger than the emissions from all the cars in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Global use of coal fell 2.3 per cent to 4.6 per cent in the first nine months of 2015 from the same period last year, according to Greenpeace.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing