China rust belt province plans $87 billion clean energy overhaul

Thick smog blanket in China’s Liaoning Province. (Photo taken in Nov. 2015 by @OrRavid.)

A northeastern province that was once one of China’s major coal and industrial hubs has launched a 600 billion yuan ($87 billion) plan to expand clean energy production.

Liaoning province is planning six different energy bases of 10 gigawatts each, according to a report from state-owned CCTV. That’s enough combined generation to power all of Thailand.

The different bases will include nuclear, offshore wind, pumped hydro energy storage, “smart energy” and two renewable energy installations, according to the report. Smart energy involves virtual power plant networks that can monitor and optimize energy generation. No timetable was given on the project’s completion.

Liaoning was once one of China’s top industrial hubs and coal producing regions, helping the Communist Party modernize the economy after it took power in 1949. But as mines became depleted, coal production and the jobs that came with it moved west. In recent years, utilities have taken advantage of the province’s windswept mountains to install power-producing turbines.

The Haizhou coal mine in Fuxin is typical of the province’s planned transition. Once the largest open-pit coal resource in Asia, the government is now researching how to convert it into an energy storage station to better harness the intermittent renewable generation in the region.

The province’s total power generating capacity was about 60 gigawatts at the end of 2020, and it plans to boost that to about 90 gigawatts by 2025, with half of that coming from non-fossil fuel sources, according to its provincial five-year plan for energy development.

Liaoning is just one part of a massive campaign taking place within China to boost clean power generation in order to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and zero them out by 2060, even as concerns about energy security are growing after a series of power crunches in recent years.

(With assistance from Kathy Chen)

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