Beijing to close its coal power plants

The remaining four major coal-fired power plants supplying Beijing will be shut down next year in a move to reduce pollution that averaged more than twice China’s national standard last year.

The facilities will be replaced by four gas-fired stations with capacity to supply 2.6 times more electricity than the coal plants.

The closures are part of a broader trend in China, which is the world’s biggest carbon emitter. Facing pressure at home and abroad, policymakers are racing to address the environmental damage seen as a byproduct of breakneck economic growth. Beijing plans to cut annual coal consumption by about 13 million tons by 2017 from the 2012 level in a bid to lower the concentration of pollutants.

Shutting all the major coal power plants in the city is estimated to cut carbon emissions of about 30 million tons, said Tian Miao, a Beijing-based analyst at North Square Blue Oak Ltd., a London-based research company with a focus on China.

“Most pollutants come from burning coal, so the closure will have a clear impact to reduce emissions,” Tian said. “The replacement with natural gas will be much cleaner with less pollution, though with a bit higher cost.”

Nationally, China planned to close more than 2,000 smaller coal mines from 2013 to the end of this year, Song Yuanming, vice chief of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said at a news conference in July.

Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel and the leading source of carbon-dioxide emissions.

In the 10 years to 2013, coal demand globally grew more than 50 percent, meeting almost half of the increase in the world’s total primary energy needs, the International Energy Agency said in its annual energy outlook report last year. China was the principal source of the surge, the agency said.

Closing coal-fired power plants is seen as a critical step in addressing pollution in China, which gets about 64 percent of the primary energy it uses from the fossil fuel. Coal accounts for about 30 percent of the U.S.’ electricity mix, while gas comprises 42 percent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

Coal use is declining or slowing in China as policymakers encourage broader use of hydroelectric, solar and wind power. The nation is also pushing to restart its nuclear power program in a bid to clear the skies. China’s electricity consumption last year grew at its slowest pace in 16 years, according to data from the China Electricity Council.

The nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide fell 2 percent last year from 2013, the first decline since 2001, signaling that efforts to control pollution are gaining traction, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimate based on preliminary energy-demand data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.