China is building another $150 billion worth of coal power plants despite repeated promises to reduce coal use, according to a Wednesday statement by the environmental group Greenpeace.
Greenpeace claims China is “wastefully” building another 200 gigawatts of coal power over the next five years, effectively breaking the country’s pledges to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
China pledged in 2014 to stop its CO2 emission increases by 2030 and then to get the emissions to gradually fall. The country reiterated its previous pledges last June, making it much easier for President Barack Obama to secure a United Nations climate deal in Paris last December. The construction of new coal power plants, however, will make China’s pledge effectively impossible to keep.
China’s total coal power capacity grew by 7.8 percent in 2015 to 990 gigawatts, while energy consumption only increased by 0.5 percent, according to the country’s National Energy Administration. Consumption of coal in China has already grown by a factor of three from 2000 to 2013. Of the over 2,400 coal-fired power plants under construction or being planned around the world, 1,171 plants will be built in China.
China consumes approximately half of all coal used worldwide and gets roughly 66 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Chinese coal is growing so quickly because the country’s government stopped approving new wind power projects in China’s windiest regions, according to a March statement by the Chinese government. These regions previously installed nearly 71 gigawatts of wind turbines, more than the rest of China combined. A single gigawatt of electricity is enough to power 700,000 homes. Government statistics show that 33.9 billion kilowatt-hours of wind power, or about 15 percent of all Chinese wind power, was wasted in 2015 alone.
Beijing has ordered wind and solar operators to stop expanding four times in the last five years because unreliable and intermittent power was damaging the country’s power grid and costing the government enormous amounts of money. The best areas for wind turbines and solar panels in China are far away from the coastal provinces where most of its population lives, and building the infrastructure to transmit the electricity over long distances is enormously expensive and could cost many times the price of generating the power.
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