An energy consumption cap, equivalent to no more than 4.2 billion tons of coal, may be set by 2015, an expert in the sector told China Daily.
A plan has been formulated following two years of talks with provincial-level governments and is awaiting State Council approval, Han Wenke, director general of the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission, said.
Han's institute under the NDRC, the top economic planner, drafted the plan.
"It is still a tough target," Han, who is also guest economist at China Daily, said.
China, one of the world's largest energy users, consumed the equivalent of 3.48 billion tons of coal in 2011, a year-on-year increase of 7 percent.
Policymakers are striking a balance between green and growth.
A target, similar to the energy saving and carbon emission goal, will be allocated to cities and provinces.
"The target for energy saving and emission reduction is a mandatory target, while the target for total energy use will be relatively flexible," Han added.
China has set a target of cutting energy - calculated in units of energy for each unit of GDP - by 16 percent by 2015 from the 2010 level.
But there are loopholes as local governments can achieve their targets by expanding GDP, energy experts said.
Consequently, capping total energy use is seen as possibly more reliable.
However, such a cap raises the possibility of regional interests competing to consume as much energy as possible to maintain growth levels.
Han declined to give the breakdown numbers for provinces, but he said local officials have basically reached a consensus with the central government after several consultations.
"Communications with local officials were much smoother than expected. There was less understanding when we allocated the energy saving and emission reduction target for the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), but now they fully understand that the country must reshape its economic development in this way," Han said.