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China approves new coal projects despite environmental concerns

Friday, 13 Dec 2013 | 2:02 AM ET

BEIJING, Dec 13 (Reuters) - China, the world top energy user, has given the go-ahead to build six new coal mines together with a massive thermal power plant in its northwest, despite warnings about local water shortages as well as the growing risk of pollution.

Beijing, desperate to improve air quality in major cities, vowed earlier this year to reduce the share of coal in its overall energy mix to less than 65 percent by 2017, from about 67 percent last year.

But as total energy demand spirals, it still expects total coal production capacity to rise to 4.1 billion tonnes by the end of 2015, up from 3.24 billion tonnes at the end of 2010, and plans to put 300 gigawatts of new coal-fired power into operation over the same period.

China has sought to turn to cleaner fuels, with more than half of the new power capacity added to the grid in the first 10 months of 2013 coming from renewable sources, according to government data.

The website of the local government in the northwestern province of Shaanxi (www.shaanxi.gov.cn) said on Friday that the new mines, with an annual production capacity of 46 million tonnes, would start construction early next year after they were all given the green light by Beijing.

A 700 MW thermal power project will also be built to replace small local plants blamed for local smog.

The project is part of government efforts to consolidate its coal production capacity in a series of "coal industry bases", including Shaanxi, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, to confine the environmental risks of mining. But the environmental group Greenpeace has warned that coal production in these regions has already caused dramatic declines in underground water supplies.

(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Joseph Radford)