December 27, 2006
Jubao Village, China: On the edge of this dusty farming hamlet, the massive smokestack of the half-finished Xinfeng Power Plant looms as a monument to China’s out-of-control demand for energy.
Unlike two other power plants nearby, Xinfeng isn’t supposed to exist. China’s electricity regulators never authorized the $362 million coal-burning plant. But in 2004, the provincial government here in northern China’s Inner Mongolia ignored Beijing’s call to slow down investment and started building the plant anyway, hoping to ensure enough juice for the region’s supercharged industrialization by tapping its rich reservoirs of coal. Inner Mongolia’s disobedience might have escaped notice.
But in July 2005, in the rush to finish the plant before regulators found out about it, the housing for a turbine collapsed, killing six workers. During the yearlong investigation that followed, the central government discovered that Inner Mongolia had illegally built about 10 power plants, or 8.6 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity – equal to about a tenth of the United Kingdom’s total capacity.
The illegal plants have had unintended – and detrimental – consequences. By eschewing even basic environmental safeguards, they stand out as polluters even in an industry that is one of China’s leading sources of emissions, officials say. They also have driven up the demand for and price of coal, the country’s most abundant source of fuel. That, in turn, has spawned thousands of illegal coal mines that have contributed to more than 4,000 coal-mining deaths in China this year. The illegal power plants show how China’s economic transformation is outpacing Beijing’s ability to manage it. … Read the full story.