China has permitted 155 coal-fired power plants this year or about four per week, says Greenpeace in a recently published study. If all the coal plants get built, they will have a total capacity of 123 gigawatts, equivalent to building 61 Hoover Dams.
The researchers suggest that the building spurt has less to do with need but rather decentralized authority. Approvals for coal plants have passed to the provincial levels. The power plants are also getting green lights due to China encouraging increased lending to fight an economic slow down.
But China may be funding a whole lot of white elephants since thermal energy demand has been leveling off.
“From the end of 2011 to the end of September 2015, thermal power generating capacity has increased no less than 190GW, the equivalent of more than 300 large coal-fired units, or 25%. However, thermal power generation in 2015 will be at the same level as in 2011,” writes Greenpeace.
“In effect, what China has done in the past four years is to add idle capacity equivalent to 300 large coal-fired power plants.”
Greenpeace is also horrified at the ramifications for global warming.
Should they all go ahead they would have a capacity of 123GW, more than twice Germany’s entire coal fleet; their carbon emissions would be around 560 million tonnes a year, roughly equal to the annual energy emissions of Brazil; they would produce more particle pollution than all the cars in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing put together; and consequently would cause around 6,100 premature deaths a year.