China suspends plans for 85 coal power plants

It's not an intentional bid to save the planet, but we'll take it.

Reuters/Jason Lee

China is taking some steps to curb pollution (it doesn't have much choice), but one of its most recent steps may be more of a happy accident. The country's National Energy Administration is suspending 85 planned or in-progress coal power plants -- not because they're threats to the environment and public health (which they are), but because they don't fit in with China's latest Five Year Plan. It's targeting a coal capacity limit of 1,100GW, but the plants would have brought it to 1,250GW. While that's still an increase over the current 920GW capacity, it's definitely an improvement.

The freeze follows a gradual change of heart on coal from Chinese officials worried about excess capacity. They told multiple provinces to stop approving coal plants back in March 2016, and in April implemented a "traffic light" approval system that shot down plans for 90 percent of upcoming plants. By October, it was shutting down under-construction projects.

Of course, this isn't really a shift away from coal -- it's more about keeping coal in check. However, it's a big deal in a country where smog can reach crisis levels, particularly during cold winter months when heating drives spikes in demand. And it's a sharp contrast with the change of direction in the US, where the incoming administration is bent on propping up the coal industry.