On Saturday, Beijing officially closed its last big coal-fired power station. The move has been welcomed by environmental groups and furthers the country’s progress towards the emission reduction targets agreed in Paris. 

It's the last of four coal-fired plants to be shut down in Beijing.

It’s the last of four coal-fired plants to be shut down in Beijing.

Back in 2013, Beijing officials promised that the city’s four coal-fired thermal power stations would be closed by this year — and on Saturday, they’ve honored that pledge. The closure of Huaneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant has been hailed in Chinese state media as Beijing is now the first city in the country with a coal-free electricity and heating supply. The city’s mayor, Cai Qi, said that “[r]eplacing coal with clean energy is not only to deal with air pollution but also a requirement of the company’s transformation.”

There’s no ‘coal’ in ‘energy’

The coal-fired generator won’t be scrapped right away but kept as a back-up in case things go south while the replacement power plant, this time burning natural gas, comes into operation. The three other coal plants have already been replaced with natural gas systems.

Huaneng said that by shutting down the generator, they’re cutting coal consumption by 1.6 million tonnes a year. So the closure is a big step towards China’s commitment to reduce coal use by 11.8 million tonnes by the end of 2017 compared to 2012. With this latest contribution, the country is some 70% of the way towards achieving that goal.

There’s an extra benefit for Beijing locals, who have had to put up with some downright terrifying levels of smog and air pollution. While natural gas plants are far from ideal, since they still produce nitrogen oxide which affects air quality, they’re way better than what coal spews out. Greenpeace China’s air pollution spokesman Liansai Dong has applauded the move away from coal, saying that the closure of the plant was just one in a series of steps Beijing has taken to combat air pollution and declaring central Beijing as a “zero coal zone.” But he also warned that there is still much to do in China.

“Beijing alone cannot fully solve its air pollution problem. Surrounding provinces like Hebei should develop more renewable energy and accelerate on phasing out coal power and other coal boilers […] If we want to solve the problem of climate change and air pollution, of which coal and fossil fuels are the cause, we should transfer to renewable energy,” he said.

“China has made some progress and we hope China can keep up this ambitious pace.”

Dong said “quite a lot” of renewable energy was being developed across China, which can boast the most solar and wind capacity installed over the last year. This is in line with China’s National Development and Reform Commission’s pledge to lower coal’s share in the energy market to 58% by 2020, while raising non-fossil to 15% or more and natural gas to 10%.

The next problem, he says, is distribution and “how to integrate clean and green energy into the energy system”.

 

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