China building secret “tsunami” of new coal power plants, says report

Analysis of satellite imagery has revealed that hundreds of new coal-fired power stations are secretly still under construction in China, despite a glut of capacity and the government’s recent attempts stop more coming online.

Owing to a decentralisation of permitting authority, 259GW-worth of new coal power capacity is being built, often unreported, says a study by green lobby group.

The extra new capacity in the pipeline nearly matches the entire capacity of the existing US fleet of coal stations: 266GW.

Unless checked, the surge of new plants will boost China’s capacity by 25% at a time when the country is already seeking to ship excess electricity to neighbours, and it will "seriously undermine" global climate goals, says the group, CoalSwarm.

CoalSwarm’s study analysed satellite images for signs of construction (CoalSwarm)

"Like an approaching tsunami triggered by a distant earthquake, a massive cohort of hundreds of new coal-fired power plants is on course to be added to the already overbuilt Chinese coal plant fleet," the report says.

"There is still time to stop the wave, but China’s authorities must move quickly to cancel the unneeded projects," it adds.

After a permitting surge between 2014 and 2016, the central government sought to quell new station building, but satellite imagery showing work underway and plant-by-plant research show the measures have not worked.

Rather than cancelling unneeded coal plants, provincial officials in many cases have merely slowed them down, CoalSwarm said.

"The surge in new projects will overwhelm China’s own 1100 GW coal cap in the country’s current Five-Year Plan," the report said, adding that cancelling the 259GW of new coal plants would free up $210bn, enough to build nearly 300GW of solar PV or 175 GW of wind power.

Top image: A coal-fired power plant in Shuozhou, Shanxi, China (Kleineolive/Wikimedia Commons)

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