China Releases New Guidelines on Renewable Energy Architecture

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By Shelly Zhao

Mar. 17 – On March 3, 2011, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) published a circular on carrying forward renewable energy architecture, stressing broader reach and improved implementation at all levels of government.

Significant points of the March 2011 circular include:

  • Promoting higher renewable energy production targets from solar, geothermal, and biofuel energy, and achieving a renewable energy consumption of 20 percent by 2020.
  • Increasing renewable construction to 2.5 billion square meters by the end of 2015, thus providing alternative energy equal to 3,000 tons of coal.
  • Focusing on and expanding renewable energy construction in rural areas – accounting for 10 percent in key areas – and encouraging implementation at the local level. Implementation stresses improving technical standards, infrastructure, and clean energy supply.
  • Accelerating new and renewable technology use and application and increasing demands on technological standards, including promoting competition and enhancing system structure.
  • Increasing development of green construction and conservation projects and providing subsidies for green city projects.
  • Strengthening quality control and assessment as well as the inspection, operation, and management of building projects.
  • Aiding local financial departments in maintaining a stable system and innovative usage of resources.
  • Overall, attaching great importance to renewable energy efforts, from organization and leadership to housing construction, finance, and real estate, at both central and local levels. There should be a coordinated and unified effort to address these major issues.

The emphasis on clean, renewable energy seems to be a positive sign, but there are a number of concerns that will be explored in brief here.

First, these renewable technologies tend to be expensive and do not yield immediate energy resources like coal and oil; for the short- and medium-term, China will remain dependent on fossil fuels.

Secondly, many of these directives appear impressive and desirable in theory, but the problems of local implementation, accountability, and protection of local interests remain. For example, the construction of hydroelectric dams as part of the clean energy drive has been controversial in China, leading to displacement and protests at the local level. The negative externalities resulting from clean energy initiatives point to the need for careful management and oversight.

Thirdly, the role of citizen participation tends to be vague in official documents and was not clarified in the circular. In the past, the Chinese government has not always been receptive to citizen complaints. There are many cases of petitioners and environmental activists’ criticism and protest leading to arrest and detention – notable cases including Dai Qing and Wu Lihong.

In this way, while the new circulars point to a continued awareness and renewed effort to tackle existing environmental and energy security issues, the crux of the seemingly promising plans, as often is the case, lies in the execution, implementation, and monitoring of these top-down initiatives.

In related news, China yesterday suspended approvals for new nuclear power plants, and has ordered comprehensive checks of existing facilities to close safety loopholes amid growing concern stoked by Japan’s growing nuclear disaster. China has 13 nuclear power reactors spread between four sites: Daya Bay, Ling Ao, Qinshan, and Tianwan. The former two are situated by the coast in Guangdong Province, close to Shenzhen and Hong Kong, while the latter two are in Jiangsu Province.

The Chinese government has fast-tracked approvals for nuclear projects over the past two years and the country is currently building 27 new nuclear power reactors; equal to 40 percent of the world’s total under construction.