China were vigorously pushing ahead with replacing coal-based household heating with natural gas, power and other cleaning energy in northern cities this coming winter and spring, in an effort to curb in increasingly air pollution.
Around four million homes are expected to start using gas this winter, sources said.
Taiyuan, capital of China's coal hub Shanxi province, said it would ban the sale, transport, and burning of coal by individuals and companies "other than major steel and power plants". The ban could cut the use of coal by 2 million tonnes, or about 90% of the city's total consumption. Instead, the city will heat some 134,000 households with renewable energy or natural gas this winter.
China has ordered Beijing and nearby provinces, including Shanxi, to limit concentrations of airborne pollutants and meet key smog targets in more than two dozen cities starting this month and lasting until March. That period is when air pollution typically increases as more coal is burned to provide heat during the winter.
Coal is the biggest source of air pollution in Taiyuan in winter, Xinhua quoted Dou Lifen, head of the city's environmental protection bureau, as saying.
A similar change will take place in northern Chinese cities covered under China's Huai River policy, which since the 1950s has provided subsidized coal for indoor heating to homes north of the Huai River, where temperatures fall far below freezing.
The country burns around 300 million tonnes of coal for heating every year, Bai Rongchun, a former official with China's National Energy Administration (NEA), said this year. That's around 7% of annual coal consumption, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics.
In March, China's ministry of environment selected Beijing, Tianjin and cities in Hebei province—some of the country's most polluted—to begin switching to cleaner heating. The ministry required 50,000 to 100,000 households in 28 cities to replace coal heating systems by the end of October.
On October 3, the NEA and China's development and reform commission said the country wanted to use more geothermal energy so as to bring the share of coal in its energy mix to under 58% by 2020, down from the current 62%.
China also began halving crude steel production in Tangshan, Handan, Shijiazhuang of Hebei province and Anyang of Henan province, both the country's major steel-producing hubs. "Production of the four places accounts for about 15% of China's total," said an analyst. "The restriction will exert a tremendous influence on the market trend."
Source noted coking plants in Hebei and around bases were also asked to reduce by one-third their production during the winter heating season.
It remains to be seen whether the energy swap will actually work. Some have voiced concerns about how the coal restrictions will affect China's northeastern industrial areas during peak demand times.
In August, two mines in Inner Mongolia operated by China's Shenhua Energy suspended operations. Huadian Energy, which sources coal for winter heating from Shenhua, said the production cut would affect the winter heating and safety. The energy company provides winter heating to households and factories in an area covering more than 100 square kilometers.
China's efforts to control pollution have often roiled the prices of steel, iron ore and coal as output is curtailed following emergency smog regulations and environmental and safety inspections.
(Writing by Alex Guo Editing by Harry Huo)
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