Across China: clear sky a testament to coal base’s transformation

TAIYUAN, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) — With the environment getting better, photographer Wu Haizhan, from north China’s Shanxi Province, spends a lot more time shooting the starry sky at a local forest park.

“Stars that used to be difficult to spot can be observed easily now,” said Wu, who has frequented the Taihang Honggu National Forest Park in Qinshui County for the past five years.

The park is home to a dark sky reserve put on the World List of Dark Sky Places by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2020.

Shanxi has traditionally been China’s top coal-producing province, long troubled by high carbon emissions and pollution, but in recent years, the local government is cutting coal-related pollution in its shift to green development.

China aims to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. According to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the share of coal in China’s energy mix declined from 72.4 percent in 2005 to 56.8 percent in 2020. The intensity of carbon emissions had been reduced by 48.4 percent from 2005 to 2020.

In Qinshui County, the coal production is expected to reach more than 35 million tonnes this year, but it is also keeping the air quality in check. All six air quality indicators of the county reached national standards last year.

Local governments have ordered coal mines to store and transport coals in an enclosed manner to reduce dust pollution. Coal seam gas, a main cause of carbon emissions during coal mining, has been recycled in many mines instead of being directly released into the air.

Qinshui has built China’s largest coal seam gas power plant, run by Qinshui Sihe Gas Power Generation Co., Ltd. The company has used 2.74 billion cubic meters of gas since 2008, reducing the emission of carbon dioxide by about 41.09 million tonnes, according to Wang Jianmin, general manager of this company.

The coal seam gas is also encouraged to be used for cooking and winter heating, replacing coal. It is estimated that 92 percent of the heating in the county will be powered by gas by the end of this year.

Zhang Xiaopu, 60, has stopped burning coal for eight years. Without smoke and fly ash, her village with some 510 residents, which used to be enveloped by dust on windy days, has seen clean streets and fresh air.

One cubic meter of gas costs the villagers 1.3 yuan (about 20 U.S. cents), and each villager receives a subsidy of 800 cubic meters of gas per year.

“Using gas for heating is more convenient than coal,” Zhang said.

Over the past three years, the installed capacity of power generated by wind and solar energy totaled 200 megawatts in Qinshui. Two wind power projects are under construction and a biomass project is also in the pipeline.

Ma Jingyu, head of Yuanshang wind farm of China Energy Engineering Investment Corporation, said electricity generated by the farm would exceed 200 million kilowatt-hours this year, providing clean electricity for 170,000 households.

The electricity it generates per year is equivalent to that produced by 64,500 tonnes of standard coal, cutting around 188,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

The improving environment in Qinshui has promoted tourism, bringing tourists as well as additional income to farmers around the Taihang Honggu National Forest Park.

In Xiangyang village, close to Honggu, Yan Fangqin, a 50-year-old owner of an agritainment, can earn up to 100,000 yuan in three months during the peak season.

“As the environment is getting better, I have more regular guests. Moreover, more wild animals such as monkeys and north China leopards have appeared now,” Yan said.

Source: Xinhua, 21 Sep 2021

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