SHIJIAZHUANG, May 14 (Xinhua) -- Beijing, nearby Tianjin Municipality and Hebei Province have cut coal consumption, but the difference it has made to air quality indices remains to be seen.
Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei were China's "most polluted" last year, and, between them, agreed to burn 63 million fewer tonnes of coal by 2017 than in 2012. The Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a multi-pronged approach to air pollution in the region in September 2013.
Natural gas has been promoted to try to end over-reliance on coal, but Tianjin and Hebei have found it hard to keep up with the pace of the capital. Hebei Province has faced a gas shortfall of about 6 billion cubic meters since it started to reduce coal consumption and the switch from coal to gas has gone accordingly slowly, according to Wang Luguang, deputy head of environmental protection in Hebei.
Tianjin planned to increase use of natural gas in central heating and convert some coal burning boilers, going so far as to announce that more than 60 percent of heat will be provided by natural gas by 2014, but the target will not be met. Gas boilers built last year are not in use because of lack of gas, said Wen Wurui, head of environmental protection in Tianjin.
"Beijing has enjoyed a lot of preferential polices in gas supply," said Cheng Xu, professor of biotechnology engineering at China Agricultural University. "The government should also take the energy demands of Tianjin and Hebei into consideration when it comes to tackling smog as a whole."
Wang Zhongmin of China's coal quality supervisor believes reducing use of low-quality coal is a more practical way to fight pollution in rural areas that switching to so-called clean energy sources. To encourage clean coal, Beijing and several counties have offered subsidies. A rural family can get 400 to 600 yuan for purchasing one ton of clean coal. With the financial support of the government, the price of clean coal is about the same as that of low quality.
In Hebei Province, only a few cities like provincial capital Shijiazhuang have adopted the same policy as Beijing. Without subsidies, most villagers in Hebei are likely to purchase low quality coal.
"The subsidy should cover more places in Hebei province," said Zhang Lunliang, official with the provincial Department of Environmental Protection. "People will be willing to buy the clean coal if it costs less."
And Zhang suggested the government find a way to cut the supply of low-quality coal at the source.
DEVELOPMENT OF CLEAN ENERGY
"Fossil fuels will inevitably be replaced by renewable and clean energy including natural gas, solar and nuclear power. We should make preparations now," said Wang Chang, head of the Hebei Provincial Industry and Information Technology Department.
Wang's opinion was echoed by Chen Wangqin, head of industrial research in Hebei, who suggests the region' s coordinated development is an opportunity to promote new energy use.
As a key production base of solar panels, the region could support a new energy industry, Chen added.
Hebei alone has 49 industrial zones to relocate plants transferred from Beijing and Tianjin. These zones have absorbed more than 2,300 enterprises and covered a roofed area of 450 million cubic meters. If all installed photovoltaic (PV) power stations, it would generate nearly 40 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity each year and save almost 15 million tonnes of coal.
"This is the figure for Hebei alone. The whole region including Beijing and Tianjin has even greater potential," he said, estimating that cost of a PV power generation station would be recovered within seven years if the government provided subsidies.
"Its service life is 25 years, a big benefit for enterprises," he said.
In February, President Xi Jinping called for integrated and coordinated development of the region around Beijing.
Xi said that optimizing regional industrial division and distribution, and overall planning for resources should be focused on integrated development. He added that infrastructure integration and joint control of air pollution should be priorities in the coordinated development of Beijing and Tianjin.