Wednesday, October 06, 2004

China, the good news and the bad news.

Later this month China will begin construction on the world's largest wind power project.

The new wind power plant, located 60 miles outside Beijing in Guangting, will generate 400 megawatts per day, nearly doubling the electrical energy China currently obtains from wind. But that's just the beginning. Last summer at a climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, China surprised many by announcing it will generate 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as wind by 2020.

Pollution is part of the driving force behind China's newfound passion for green energy, said Yu Jie of Greenpeace China's office in Beijing. "Acid rain blankets 70 percent of the country," Jie said, cutting crop yields, damaging trees and making rivers and lakes too acidic to support fish.

The country's galloping economic growth over the past 20 years has meant enormous increases in electrical power demands, 75 percent of which come from coal. China is the world's largest coal-consuming country and home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities on the planet, according to the World Bank. At least 400,000 people in China die each year from air-pollution-related illnesses, the World Bank reports.

But China's booming economy continues to rely ever more heavily on coal. China has massive coal reserves and is already the world's top producer of coal.

Three-quarters of China's 400,000 megawatts of installed power capacity, the world's second-largest after the United States, are fired by the jet black fossil fuel.

This leads to worries about increased air pollution and the release of ever-larger amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

But most of the coal is low-quality and its transportation infrastructure cannot ship enough coal from the mines in the west to the cities in the east. Electrical energy self-sufficiency is a crucial goal for the Chinese leadership, especially as oil imports soar to provide gasoline for the 14,000 new motor vehicles being added to its streets every day.

China's growth is spurring a new demand for solar energy which will grow the industry and eventually benefit everyone, but its tremendous rate of growth is also helping to drive oil to record prices and its continuing reliance on coal produces tremendous amounts of pollution and growing levels of greenhouse gasses.


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