Switch from coal to gas has left residents of towns around Beijing without heating after gas supply falters
While middle class Beijingers breathe the cleanest air in recent winters, in Zhuozhou, a small city 20 minutes by train from Beijing’s downtown, residents are shivering through cold nights without heating. The reason: a five-year anti-pollution drive has forced rural areas in northern China to switch from dirty coal to the cleaner alternative. The massive retrofitting campaign has sent gas prices soaring while many are left without heating systems at all.
In two villages close to Zhuozhou’s high-speed railway station, on the city’s eastern edge, villagers estimate only about one third of homes have been connected with natural gas supply, while others say they are still anxiously waiting for the gas company to install furnaces. Their old-fashioned coal stoves were all demolished as the government intensified efforts to phase out coal use in rural homes.
As temperatures drop to about -6C, they say nights are “increasingly unbearable”, especially for seniors and toddlers. A street cleaner said he had to burn firewood to keep warm. “It is very cold, but there’s nothing we can do except wait,” said one mother who was reluctant to be named.
Hebei provincial government, which administers Zhuozhou, issued an orange alert for natural gas supply on 28 November. It is the second on a four-tier warning system, indicating a demand-supply gap between 10% and 20% that will have a “relatively big impact” on economic and social operation.