• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:41pm

New coal-fired power stations in Guangdong ‘will kill thousands’

Residents in Hong Kong and Pearl River Delta at risk from power stations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 5:30am

Emissions from new coal-fired power stations planned in Guangdong could cause as many as 16,000 deaths in the next 40 years, research by an air-pollution specialist indicates.

The "shocking" findings have brought a call for the province to wind back plans for the 22 additional stations and return to a 2009 policy of no new coal-fired plants in the Pearl River Delta.

The estimates were made by Dr Andrew Gray, an American private air quality consultant commissioned by Greenpeace to study the health impact of the new plants' emissions of fine particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometres. The extra deaths would add to an already heavy health toll - put at 3,600 deaths and 4,000 cases of child asthma in 2011 alone - from the 96 coal-fired plants already in operation in the province and Hong Kong.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Zhou Rong said: "The cumulative impact of these new plants on human health is simply shocking.

"The Pearl River Delta [PRD] region should strictly enforce the policy of no more new coal-fired power plants in the PRD published in 2009. Guangdong has ignored its earlier pledge to ban new coal-fired power plants in order to feed its hunger for energy."

Some online comments on the mainland described Greenpeace's proposal to scale back the plants as partial and unrealistic.

"So shall Guangdong build more large-scale nuke plants or shall it transport more electricity from the country's southwest?" Yu Yang , a student at Stanford University who researches on environment policy, wrote on his microblog.

For his study, Gray used the CALPUFF computer model, endorsed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for trans-boundary air pollution, as well as emission data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and power companies.

The health impact estimates were also based on a model developed by the World Health Organisation on mortality risks from human exposure to fine particles.

Half of the additional power stations, with a total capacity of 26,000 megawatts, are under construction and the rest are in the planning stage.

Of the predicted 16,000 premature deaths in the next four decades, two-thirds would be related to strokes, the report said. The rest would be from lung cancer and heart disease.

It said the pollution would also lead to 15,000 new cases of child asthma and 19,000 of chronic bronchitis.

Most new deaths and child asthma cases would be in the delta region, with 1,700 and 1,300 respectively in Hong Kong.

Zhou said Guangdong, as the most economically powerful province, could have made a bold decision to cap coal use, and harness more renewable energy.

The projection was released weeks after reports that Shenzhen had suspended a planned coal-fired power plant after public opposition, she said.

The Environmental Protection Department said Hong Kong had banned new coal-fired plants since 1997 and imposed emission caps on power plants. A spokesman said the city had also agreed with Guangdong on goals to reduce emissions for 2015 and 2020.

Simon Ng Ka-wing , an energy researcher with think tank Civic Exchange, said the method adopted by Gray was in common use but called for him to disclose more of the assumptions behind the study.

Ng also said the choice of fuel mix was a complicated balance to strike. "Ideally, coal use should be capped given its footprint on air quality … but whether it could be enforced is a challenge," he said.

Instead of coal, more expensive gas could be harnessed, but its supplies were more limited. Another option was nuclear, but this carried safety concerns.

Greenpeace has been campaigning worldwide to eliminate nuclear power, citing environmental and safety concerns.

Yu Yang added that hydroelectricity from China's southwest could be more polluting or damaging to local ecology. "When targeting a polluting industry, an environmental organisation should also consider the alternative solution and its corresponding environmental price,'' he wrote.



For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

'most advanced coal firing plants in the world'
sounds like an ad from the coal industry
absolutely ridiculous comment
CO2 sequestration puts the emission into the ground
China's coal fired power stations are Neolithic
no bag house or electrostatic precipitator can catch all of PM10 let alone killer PM 2.5 and PM1
the China coal quality is kak and high sulfur content
Even CLP brings its coal from Indonesia instead of China
SASOL in South Africa has been perfecting coal gasification for years - China should take heed
Meanwhile they have so much MSW per day they could use it to fire plasma gasification plants for their electricity with major emissions reduction

CO2 sequestration is not economically viable without hefty tariff hike, and you need a big deep hole to bury it. Hard to find a site for this purpose in densely populated Chinese cities.
Indonesia thermal coal for power plant is generally cheaper for low heat value. China has good quality power coal but they are more expensive. A little study on Shenhua coal is helpful to tell the truth. Also look up the Chinese import statistics you will find China imported about 40% coal for power plant uses, a large bulk of which also from Indonesia for price reason.
Good modern coal fire plants are designed to use high sulfur content coal mixed with a certain percentage of good quality coal. Temperature and loading control, as well as a good FGD system can reduce SO2 emission up to 98%.
If China has the best coal power plant is a ridiculous statement, find out how much they have invested in pollution control and reduction facilities perhaps will give you a second thought.
Yu Yang is correct. There's just no environmentally friendly way of energy generation for the level of population like China's. The US relies on coal-fired power plants for more than 70% of its electricity, without nearly the level of pollution. Why? Because the population density is much lower in the US. The province of Guangdong alone contains as much as 1/3 of the US population.
It may be surprising to know that China has the most advanced coal firing plants in the world after they spent billions of RMB on installing de-Nox and desulfurisation facilities in the newly built plants (especially in Guangdong), which simply can out-class most coal-firing plants in the US. They also have tried great effort in controlling fly ash emission with the latest technologies available from around the world. CO2 though is set to be contained, but changing to natural gas will make no big difference as both types of fuel are hydrocarbons.
It is always easy to make a lip-service when it comes to environmental protection advocation. But the coal firing plants in China are doing real works to protect the environment while providing energy for the public.
"China has the most advanced coal firing plants in the world"
Really? Which ones? Not any of the dozens of plants I've visited in the past few years. Chinese plants have rudimentary controls and poor load following ability. Ex boiler emission are high and SCR and FGD performance are poor. Chinese have told me they think Chinese FGD is "garbage engineering - la ji gong cheng." Their words not mine.
"natural gas will make no big difference" Not true. Natural gas use would lower CO2 but the issue is not what you make it. The real issue is that China lacks enough economically priced natural gas.
The Chinese government has requested coal firing plants to reduce particle. Bag house and and general electrostatic precipitators are not effective to remove PM2.5. Some Chinese power plants are adopting the more operationally expensive wet scrubber to remove PM2.5, and they are really running ahead..
The real numbers from the U.S. are about 45% of power generation from coal in 2013. 2010 the number might have been 60% due to high natural gas prices.
Population density is not the major factor. Performance is. Chinese power plants are noted for their low cost and low effective pollution abatement.
Nuclear has obvious advantages in relation to emission, but initial costs are 5-10 times coal capacity.
No green energy source is even remotely cost-effective even after decades of subsidies. Save for a few exceptions like heating up bath water, there is no real economic green energy source.


SCMP.com Account