China’s efforts to tackle air pollution are getting a reality check, with some regions told to revert to burning coal after shortages of natural gas left people without heating amid freezing winter temperatures.
Officials in China’s frigid northern provinces were ordered to prioritize keeping citizens warm and areas that had not yet converted fully to gas were permitted to burn coal for heating, state media reported last week, citing a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Beijing, which reportedly stopped using coal for heating and power in March, asked a plant to restart its coal-fired units because of gas shortages, Caixin magazine reported on Saturday.
The easing of curbs on coal came after some provinces were reported to have suspended heating to households, and ordered factories and businesses to curtail power use because there was not enough natural gas.
Reducing the reliance on coal-powered energy is key to China’s push to reduce smog, which can be particularly bad in the north and northeast, home to the rustbelt and cities like Beijing and Tianjin.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has made the transition to cleaner power a priority, but implementation has not been smooth.
Switching industrial and residential users to natural gas pushed demand up by 19 percent during the first 10 months of this year, according to data from the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission.
This is the second straight year that Chinese regulators’ efforts to reform the energy sector have fallen victim to their own success.
A drive last year to limit coal output sent prices soaring and squeezed power companies.
This year, the creation of natural gas infrastructure has not kept up with the Chinese government’s push to tackle pollution, leading to the heating disruptions, a particular problem for the north.
Last month, more than 1,000 households in central Shaanxi Province saw their heating suspended because of the gas shortage, cnwest.com reported.
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