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Beijing shuts big coal-fired power plant to ease smog -Xinhua

BEIJING, July 23 (Reuters) - Beijing has closed the first of four large coal-fired power plants set to be decommissioned as part of the city's efforts to cut air pollution, official news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday, citing the local planning agency.

Xinhua said the authorities had shut down the Gaojing Thermal Power Plant's six 100 megawatt generating units. The plant is owned by the China Datang Corporation, one of China's big five state power firms.

In the face of growing public anger about persistent smog in the Chinese capital, the government has been under intense pressure to cut coal use and relocate industry.

Beijing's three remaining coal-fired power plants are all to be closed by the end of 2016.

The city is planning to reduce coal use by 2.6 million tonnes this year and a total of 9.2 million tonnes by the end of 2016, leaving its annual consumption at less than 10 million tonnes by 2017.

It plans to fill the gap filled by building new natural gas-fired power stations and bringing in electricity from other provinces.

The city is also introducing tougher new fuel standards. It said earlier this year it would draw up new plans to ease traffic, which may include a congestion charge.

Average readings of tiny airborne particles that are hazardous to health, called PM2.5, reached 91.6 micrograms per cubic metre in the first half of 2014, down 11.2 percent year on year, official data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection showed.

The figure stood at an average of 89.5 mcg per cubic metre last year, and Beijing plans to bring it down to 60 mcg by 2017.

In 2013, PM2.5 concentrations in 74 cities monitored by the Chinese authorities averaged 72 mcg per cubic metre, more than twice China's recommended national standard of 35 mcg.

The Beijing Municipal Research Institute on Environmental Protection said earlier this month that Beijing was likely to reach the recommended standard by 2030 at the earliest.

(Reporting by David Stanway)