Water scarcity could result from China’s coal expansion, says Greenpeace

A plan from China to increase its coal fired power plants by 2015 could trigger a severe water crisis in the country’s arid Northwest, a report by environmental activists Greenpeace has claimed...

A plan from China to increase its coal fired power plants by 2015 could trigger a severe water crisis in the country’s arid Northwest, a report by environmental activists Greenpeace has claimed.

According to the report entitled ‘Thirsty Coal: A Water Crisis Exacerbated by China’s New Mega Coal Power Bases', the 16 new facilities to be situated in provinces such as Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Shanxi and Nigxia, could consume ten billion cubic meters of water.

Total installed capacity for the new plants is expected to exceed 600 gigawatts, according to Reuters. Water consumed by the plants is equal to a sixth of the yearly flow of the Yellow River – 9.98 billion cubic meters.

Greenpeace said: “On top of this, coal operations will dump a great deal more pollution into the river, threatening drinking water for millions.”

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook for 2011 estimates that China’s coal demand will increase 70% to 3.71 billion metric tons of coal from 2009 to 2035.

In June Bloomberg reported that the country’s plans to increase coal-fired power plants to meet electricity demand aren’t feasible because of a lack of water needed to cool the plants. Quoting GE, Bloomberg said that China’s water consumption for power generation will grow from 141 billion gallons in 2011 to 250 billion gallons in 2025.

Large quantities of water are frequently needed to remove impurities from coal at the mine, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, coal-fired power plants use large quantities of water for producing steam and for cooling.

When coal-fired power plants remove water from a lake or river, fish and other aquatic life can be affected, as well as animals and people who depend on these aquatic resources, the EPA said.

Greenpeace China urged the government to look more closely at water demand and think again about the size and location of mines and coal plants. It also points out that relying more on renewable energy would protect water resources.

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