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China Starts Shutting Down Coal Plants

Slick moves afoot in Beijing:

China has taken advantage of a drop in electricity demand due to the global financial crisis to speed up a campaign to close small coal-fired power plants and improve its battered environment, an official said Thursday.

Authorities have closed power plants with a total of 7,467 generating units, meeting a previously announced goal 18 months ahead of schedule, said Sun Qin, deputy administrator of the Cabinet's National Energy Administration.

"This couldn't be done when power demand was very intense," Sun said at a news conference. "Due to this financial crisis, the power generation has slowed down, so we took this opportunity to accelerate the shutdown."

Let's put this in perspective. Even after the closures, China will still get about 60 percent of its electricity from dirty coal plants, and many of the smaller plants being shuttered are going to be supplanted by the country's larger, more-efficient coal plants (though some of that power will be replaced by renewables, which China has been promoting very aggressively). On the climate front, that's a modest improvement. All told, Beijing expects the shutdown to reduce the country's total carbon-dioxide emissions by some 124 million tons per year, or about 2 percent of China's total in 2006.

But this will have a much bigger impact on another environmental area: Those smaller, creakier coal plants spewed out an obscene amount of sulfur-dioxide, causing acid rain that's been devastating China's cities, forests, and rivers. Many of the newer coal plants do emit fewer sulfur and nitrogen compounds, even if they still churn out plenty of greenhouse gases, and that appears to have been the main motivator here.

(Flickr photo credit: nightowlblogs1)

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