Coal shortages have seen Shanxi, the nation's largest coal-producing province, become the latest region to close down some of its power plants. The northern province had shut 1,500 megawatts (MW) to 2,000 MW of generating capacity or 7.3 per cent to 9.7 per cent of its national total between January 17 and 21, State Grid Corp of China subsidiary Shanxi Electric Power said. Production at eight generating units of six power plants was halted because of a lack of coal, amid heightened efforts to close small mines, continuing efforts to clamp down on the overloading of toll roads and reduced transport capacity due to snow storms, Shanxi Electric said. The revelation comes after confirmation by China Southern Power Grid vice-president Xiao Peng last Tuesday that about 8 per cent of the generating capacity in five southern provinces where it operates had been turned off because of coal shortages. The closure of small coal mines to reduce deaths and injuries caused by unsafe mining practices was also cited by Mr Xiao as a key cause of tight coal supply. The mainland plans to shut 5,000 small coal mines with annual capacity of 200 million tonnes or less by 2010, accounting for 8 per cent of national output, State Administration of Coal Mine Safety chief Li Yizhong (below) said in Beijing yesterday. The move would see the capacity of small mines, defined as those with annual capacity of two million tonnes or less, fall to under 700 million tonnes or 27 per cent of the forecast national output in 2010, down from 35 per cent this year. The central government's efforts to reduce output from small mines posed a challenge for power firms in sourcing sufficient coal, as coal and power demand has been surging faster than national economic growth. According to China Electricity Council figures, the nation's power generation grew 14.4 per cent last year. One boon is the commissioning of more energy-efficient power plants, resulting in an estimated lower growth rate in coal demand of 9 per cent last year, according to a Credit Suisse research report. This was still ahead of an 8 per cent growth in output, meaning the nation had to import more coal to plug the supply gap. The mainland's coal imports jumped 33.3 per cent last year to 51.01 million tonnes, while exports tumbled 16 per cent to 53.16 million tonnes. China is expected to become a net importer this year, analysts said.