Beijing will ban new coal-fired thermal power plants after the four existing ones are expected to be replaced by gas-fired plants by 2017, according to the municipal economic planner.
The replacement is being made in an attempt to reduce coal consumption to achieve better air quality.
“The closure of the coal-fired power plants will greatly improve air quality, considering that 22 percent of air pollutants are from coal consumption,” said Zhang Wangcai, deputy director of the Beijing Development and Reform Commission’s Energy Bureau.
Two gas-fired thermal power plants have been operating since October and have reduced coal consumption by 3.95 metric tons annually, he said.
Beijing has also restricted coal consumption by companies and households for heating in the past two years by supplying them with gas or other cleaner fuels instead.
“By the end of this year, we will reduce coal consumption by 8 million tons,” Zhang said, adding that a reduction of 7.1 million tons has already been achieved.
Li Xiang, deputy head of atmospheric environment management at the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said the reduction of coal consumption at the two power plants has been a major reason for the better air quality in the capital in the first four months of this year.
She said people in the capital have seen a distinct improvement in air quality in the first four months, during which there were 57 days when the quality was better than the national standard - eight days more than during the same period last year.
The concentration of PM2.5 - air particles of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter that can penetrate the lungs and harm health - has been lowered by 19 percent and the number of days with serious pollution reduced by 42 percent year-on-year.
On Thursday, authorities launched efforts to reduce air pollution in support of the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Zhang said the government will make further efforts to reduce emissions of air pollutants, including restricting coal consumption as planned, which will further improve air quality.
In addition to the two thermal power plants already operating, another will start working in July and a fourth will be ready to operate in November next year, he said.
By 2017, Beijing will have all its power generated by clean-energy gas, and coal consumption will be cut by 9.2 million tons annually - the equivalent amount used for the four coal-burning thermal power plants.
Gas consumption will increase to 24 billion cubic meters in 2017, of which 98 percent will be supplied through a variety of channels including foreign countries, Zhang said, adding that Beijing consumed 11.3 billion cubic meters of gas last year.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection released the list of air quality in April in the 74 major cities on Monday.
In April, seven of the 10 cities with the worst air pollution were in Hebei province, but the region of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province has witnessed a clear improvement in air quality, said Luo Yi, head of the ministry’s Environmental Supervision Bureau.
The PM2.5 concentration in the region has been reduced on average by 18.3 percent year-on-year and was 16.3 per cent lower in April than in March, he said.