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A Few Kinks In China's Rush To Go Green

There was a Pew report released yesterday noting that China is now spending nearly double what the United States does on clean energy projects. (In fact, as a percentage of GDP, the United States is spending less on alternative energy than countries like Italy and Mexico.) That's certainly a striking sign that the United States could be doing a lot more on this front. But, as a caveat, those raw dollar figures don't mean that all of China's energy investments are going smoothly. Over at Solve Climate Ann Danylkiw writes about the messier aspects of China's clean-tech push:

In China, local officials are in such a hurry to implement the central government's new renewable energy policies that some projects are going up with too little planning.

Some of the massive wind farms being built in parts of northwest China, for example, are in arid regions where they will be exposed to quick erosion by sand and dust. Their expensive turbines will need to be replaced far earlier than the usual 20- to 30-year life spans, and the necessary transmissions lines to carry their renewable power aren't always in place. In fact, adverse conditions for turbines are found in three of the five provinces where large wind projects have been implemented: Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Gansu.

Ministry of Industry Information and Technology Vice Minister Miao Wei recently went so far as to call a $17.6 billion wind farm currently under construction in Gansu province an “image project” and an inefficient use of government resources because of the erosion danger.

As Danylkiw explains, one structural problem is that the central government in Beijing promulgates all the energy policies but then leaves it to the provinces to build the actual wind farms and so forth. And provincial officials tend to get assessed based on GDP growth, so they don't always have incentive to make long-term energy decisions. But projects like transmission lines do tend to require coordination and careful planning, so the results can get rather untidy. (I dug into some of those issues in this old piece on China's green policies.)