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As U.S. Shutters Coal Plants, China And Japan Are Building Them

Institute for Energy Research

China is building one coal-fired power plant every 7 to 10 days, while Japan plans to build 43 coal-fired power projects to replace its shuttered nuclear units.

China and Japan have plans to build massive amounts of coal-fired power plants, while the United States is not only not building new coal-fired power plants, but it is also shuttering many of its existing coal-fired power plants because of Obama Administration policies. China is building one coal-fired power plant every 7 to 10 days, while Japan plans to build 43 coal-fired power projects to replace its shuttered nuclear units. The United States, on the other hand, cannot build new non-CCS coal-fired power plants and is shuttering existing coal fired power plants. These existing coal-fired power plants retiring in the United States are among the cheapest source of electricity generation in this country. To replace these plants with new generating capacity will cost the nation and thus taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars.


According to a Japanese environmental group, the Kiko Network, there are 43 coal-fired power projects under construction or planned to be built to replace the loss of nuclear power capacity shuttered due to the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant. The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident prompted Japan to shutter most of its nuclear power capacity — some of which had been damaged by the tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan in 2011.[i] In 2010, before the accident at the Fukushima plant, nuclear power generated 14 percent of Japan’s electricity, but after the accident in 2012, nuclear power generated only 2 percent of Japan’s electricity. The tsunami and earthquake killed 19,000 people, and destroyed 150,000 buildings.

Due to the shuttering of its nuclear units, Japan was forced to import coal, natural gas, and oil to make up for the lost nuclear power. According to the Energy Information Administration, Japan spent about $270 billion, or around 58 percent more, for fossil fuel imports in the three years following the Fukushima accident. Japan’s trade balance reversed from a 30-year trade surplus, which was $65 billion in 2010, to a deficit that reached $112 billion in 2013. Despite the lower oil prices in the second half of 2014 helping to lower Japan’s trade deficit, the country still has to import fossil fuels to keep its power system going.[ii]

In 2014, Japan issued its latest energy policy that emphasizes energy security, economic efficiency, and emissions reduction. Based on this policy, the country intends to develop the most advanced generation technologies using fossil fuels, strengthen the share of renewable and alternative energy sources, and reduce its dependency on oil in the transportation sector. Japan is the third largest oil consumer and net importer of crude oil and petroleum products in the world behind the United State and China.

In that light, Japan is financing $1 billion in loans for coal-fired plants in Indonesia and $630 million in loans for coal-fired plants in India and Bangladesh.[iii] Japan is using climate finance funds for the projects since these new coal-fired plants are less polluting than older coal-fired plants and therefore qualify as clean energy. Japan believes that the promotion of high-efficiency coal-fired power plants is one of the “realistic, pragmatic and effective approaches” to deal with climate change.[iv]


China added 39 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity in 2014 — 3 gigawatts more than it added in 2013. That is equivalent to three 1,000 megawatt units every four weeks.[v] At the peak, from 2005 through 2011, China added about two 600-megawatt coal plants a week, for 7 straight years. And, China is expected to add the equivalent of a new 600-megawatt plant every 10 days for the next 10 years. These new coal plants that China is constructing are more efficient and cleaner than their old coal-fired plants.[vi]

China consumes more than 4 billion tons of coal each year, compared to less than 1 billion tons in the United States and 600 million tons in the European Union. China surpassed the United States to become the largest global carbon dioxide emitter in 2007, and it is on track to double annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 2017. By 2040, China’s coal power fleet is expected to be 50 percent larger than it is today and these power plants typically operate for 40 years or more.[vii]

Recently, China has announced that it will shutter its last 4 coal-fired power plants in Beijing that are old and emitters of smog-causing criteria pollutants.[1] Air pollution in Beijing averaged more than twice China’s national standard last year. China will replace the old coal-fired plants with four gas-fired stations with capacity to supply 2.6 times more electricity than the coal plants.[viii]

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