China has stepped up plans to open new coal plants this year as the government moves to ensure power supplies in the face of economic risks and possible electricity shortages, according to top environmental group Greenpeace.
Researchers found that Chinese authorities approved 8.63 gigawatts of coal plants in the first quarter of 2022, which Greenpeace said was almost half the amount approved over the whole of 2021.
“China’s power inadequacies do not originate from low generation capacity. China has an overcapacity of coal-fired power plants. Power inadequacies originate from poor integration of generation, grid, load, and storage,” said Wu Jinghan, a climate and energy campaigner in Greenpeace East Asia’s Beijing office.
This move was “part of a traditional mindset about the energy sector that clawed its way back into prominence rather quickly”, according to Wu, who said “an overcapacity of this one energy source is a major hurdle for energy security, as well as China’s energy transition.”
In 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, new coal-fired power plants were approved in six provinces: Hunan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Anhui, Zhejiang and Fujian, it said, pointing to state-owned entities run by provincial governments as “particularly responsive to short term trends in energy planning”.
“Energy security has become sort of a code word for coal, rather than for reliable supply of energy. Provincial governments look to Beijing closely for guidance. So long as ‘energy security’ is the code word for traditional, emissions-heavy economic planning, they will use it. Coal-dependent provinces need the right directions to move forward,” Wu said.
Last year President Xi Jinping committed to China scaling down coal use from 2026, it added.
Greenpeace said the central government needed to “get a hold on China’s runaway coal expansion”, by either controlling the approval process or setting up a policymaking guidance similar to a traffic light system for new coal power projects, which can communicate the severity of mounting risks to local development and reform commissions.
- Alfie Habershon and Jim Pollard