Chinese investment in coal-fired power slows, with 24 projects approved this year

Chinese provincial governments have approved the construction of 5.2 GW of coal-fired power generation capacity in the first half of 2021, according to Greenpeace analysis

In the first half of 2021, Chinese provincial governments approved the construction of 24 new coal-based power projects, according to a Greenpeace analysis.

The 5.2 GW of approved coal power represents a 79% drop from approved coal capacity during the same period last year.

Li Danqing, Beijing-based project manager for Greenpeace East Asia, said Chinese policymakers were receiving “mixed signals on coal.”

She said that since President Xi Jinping announced new climate targets for 2030 in April, local governments have slowed down approvals for new polluting power plants but “are clearly still waiting for financial support for coal.”

Of the 5.2 GW approved, 3.3 GW come from three large coal-fired power plants in Anhui provinces and the coal-dependent northern province of Shaanxi.

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The provinces have mainly justified the projects by “securing long-term electricity supply”. Some parts of the country have experienced power shortages this past winter and this summer.

This data comes from the lists of “key projects” of 27 provincial governments – a tool for requesting funding from the central government.

Being on the list of key projects is a virtual guarantee of Beijing’s support, according to Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst with the Energy and Clean Air Research Center.

He told Climate Home News that the initiatives on the list are funded by public banks. “Being included on the list of major projects means either you already have the initial planning permission or it’s a shoo-in,” he said.

While provincial governments have the power to authorize industrial projects, the central government can choose to intervene.

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Two of the three main power plants in Anhui and Shaanxi were financed by state-owned companies.

Greenpeace suggested that state-owned companies could step up efforts as private companies withdrew from funding for new coal-fired power generation.

To recover from Covid-19, China is relying on “a huge wave of construction and industrial projects,” Myllyvirta told Climate Home News.

China’s gross domestic product (GDP), energy consumption, and production of steel, cement and aluminum increased in 2020 despite the pandemic.

However, the central government has not authorized all polluting projects in the provinces this year.

Myllyvirta said nine provinces had suspended approval of new “high-emission” projects because they had increased their CO2 intensity in the first half of the year.

For the first time, China did not support any coal-fired power projects outside the country in the first half of 2021.

But nationally, provincial lists of key projects still include 104.8 GW of coal capacity in the pipeline, more than four times Germany’s total coal-fired power capacity.

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