China Announces Massive Rise In Coal Capacity By 2020

  • Date: 07/11/16
  • Brian Spegele, The Wall Street Journal

BEIJING—China’s government said it would raise coal power capacity by as much as 20% by 2020, ensuring a continuing strong role for the commodity in the country’s energy sector despite a pledge to bring down pollution levels.

In a new five-year plan for electricity released Monday, the National Energy Administration said it would raise coal-fired power capacity from around 900 gigawatts last year to as high as 1,100 gigawatts by 2020. The roughly 200-gigawatt increase alone is more than the total power capacity of Canada.

By comparison, the agency said it would increase non-fossil fuel sources from about 12% to 15% of the country’s energy mix over the same period. Coal would still make up about 55% of the electricity mix by 2020, down from around two-thirds in recent years.

“This is indeed a disappointing target,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, a campaigner at the environmental group Greenpeace. “Given that there is already severe overcapacity and demand for coal-fired power is going down, we would have expected a cap on coal power capacity much closer to the current capacity level.”

Greenpeace said China already had some 200 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity under construction, meaning that meeting its 13th Five Year Plan goal would require the government to halt some new projects and retire some existing plants.

Officials from the NEA defended the target in a press conference with Chinese journalists Monday, according to a transcript posted on the administration’s website. They said that the government was committed to reducing coal’s dominance in the energy mix and that they reserved the right to slow down coal-project approvals or construction, if necessary.

The country’s power targets are closely watched in the energy sector for indications of what China’s demand will be for commodities ranging from coal to natural gas and uranium. The country’s economic slowdown has already weighed on Chinese imports of some commodities, contributing to lower prices world-wide.

The government Monday forecast overall power demand would grow between 3.8% and 4.6% by 2020. That is down from recent years of double-digit growth, but also marks a rebound from growth of just 0.5% in 2015.

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