On a hot, humid day in Beijing, the environmental group Greenpeace released a report challenging China's largest power-generation plants.
In front of a coal-fired power plant, campaigners and volunteers stood at the dry riverbed of Yongding River on the western outskirts of the capital.
They held a huge banner with a symbol for "No Coal".
The country's top power companies are being asked to help move China away from coal and to cut carbon dioxide emissions by aggressively improving energy efficiency and developing renewable energy.
The Greenpeace report, "Polluting Power: Ranking China's Power Companies," stated that China's top 10 power generators consume 20 percent of China's total coal production, creating 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide emission in 2008.
"These power companies must play an industry leadership role. If not, they will be barriers to China's climate change campaign," said Yang Ailun, climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace China.
Generating 60 percent of the country's electricity, the total amount of coal consumed by the top 10 Chinese power companies is more than 590 million tons, according to the National Statistics Bureau. The country's raw coal output totaled 2.6 billion tons in 2008.
By the end of 2008, the installed capacity of electricity generation reached 792 gigawatts (gW).
Coal-fired plants account for 75 percent of that capacity, the official figures showed.
The top 10 power companies, ranked by their installed capacity, are: Huaneng, Datang, Guodian, Huadian, China Power Investment Corp, China Three Georges Project Corp, Yuedian, Zhejiang Provincial Energy, Shenhua and China Resources Power Holdings Co.
The "True Cost of Coal in China" report, published by Greenpeace in 2008, stated that the environmental loss for each ton of coal burned in China was 150 yuan.
That price tag, Greenpeace said, was based on environmental damages to the air and water, ecological degradation and harmful health effects.
The environmental group pointed out that the top 10 power companies caused environmental losses valued at 87 billion yuan in 2008 by burning coal.
But some power industry insiders argue that their methods of calculation still need to be scientifically testified.
Some of these power companies, including Huaneng, are reluctant to comment on the report.
Yang of Greenpeace China said they are trying to talk with these companies.
Zhang Jianyu, program manager for the Environmental Defense Fund China program, said it's obvious that the power industry is a big greenhouse gas emitter.
"China's energy mix could not be changed in the short term, so power companies are facing huge pressure to implement energy conservation and emission reduction," Zhang said.
"The upstream and downstream power industry should jointly make great efforts to clean up the whole process of power generation and reduce emissions," he said.
Greenpeace affirmed China's significant progress in improving energy efficiency and reducing major pollutants.
All of the top power companies have met the target in China's 11th five-year plan to reduce average coal consumption to 355 grams per kilowatt-hour of coal-power generation.
Also in the past three years, the amount of energy saved with the closing of inefficient coal-fired plants in China reached 54.07 gigawatts -- equivalent to the total installed electricity capacity of Australia.
The Chinese government blocked 32 industrial projects in the first half of this year on environmental grounds.
The 32 projects, some of which belong to Huaneng and Huadian, are valued at 134.8 billion yuan.
Huaneng, China's largest power company, has started construction of a 10,000-ton pilot Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project in Shanghai. The company expects construction to be completed by the end of the year.
And the company has already invested 20 billion yuan into desulfurization facilities and other emission reduction facilities.
Tao Detian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said China's power industry had major achievements in 2008 in reducing sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 14.5 percent over 2007 levels.
Still, Yang of Greenpeace China said more attention must be paid to alternative energy sources.
"China is suffering the pains of extreme events such as droughts, heat waves, typhoons and floods that have been worsened by climate change," Yang said.
"These power companies can and must help China to prevent climate disasters by rapidly increasing efficiency and the share of renewable energy such as wind and solar," Yang said.
More of China's power companies are turning to alternative energy resources.
By the end of 2008, one of the top 10 power companies had met the government's call for obtaining 3 percent of its power from renewable energy sources.
However, eight of those companies were only halfway to meeting that goal.
The Chinese government plans to accelerate the pace of restructuring its energy mix and economic structure, according to previous statements by Xie Zhenhua, vice minister in charge of climate change for the National Development and Reform Commission.
Xie said that renewable energy sources, including solar power and wind power, are expected to account for 10 percent of the country's energy resources by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020.
The government now is developing a plan to make renewable energy account for 20 percent of China's total energy needs.
Greenpeace wants China to raise the renewable energy target to 30 percent by 2020 and introduce favorable policies to facilitate development.
Greenpeace proposed an energy tax and environmental tax for coal that not only drives power companies to rapidly move to renewable energy, but also ensures that, during the transition, coal is used as efficiently as possible.
The Chinese government needs to adopt stricter energy efficiency standards for installed coal capacity in the 12th five-year plan, which requires average coal consumption to be below 335 grams per kilowatt-hour of coal power generation, the report said.
Source: China Daily