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April 23, 2015

As U.S. Shutters Coal Plants, China and Japan are Building Them

April 23, 2015
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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]

China’s dilemma is that it does not have much producible natural gas resources of its own.[2] As a result, it had plans to build 50 coal-to-gas plants far from the cities and use the synthetic gas to power electric generating plants in the smog-filled cities thereby reducing air pollution. China currently operates two coal-to-natural-gas demonstration projects, with 48 other plants under construction or in the planning stage. When and if completed, those plants would produce 225 billion cubic meters of coal-fueled synthetic natural gas each year. However, China has now indicated that it will complete the construction of just 4 approved coal-to-natural-gas plants but will not approve new projects until 2020, keeping its coal-based synthetic natural gas production capacity to 15 billion cubic meters at the end of the decade.[ix] China has found challenges in the projects that have been completed due to both the large amount of water consumed and the environmental emissions from the plants, among other issues.[x]

Despite China’s entry into renewable energy and the massive hydroelectric projects it has, the country generates 70 percent of its electricity from coal and will continue to use coal as its major generating fuel to supply electricity to its population and to manufacture its exports. In fact, China approved the construction of more than 100 million metric tons of new coal production capacity from 5 large scale coal mines in 2013 – six times more than a year earlier.[xi]

United States

While Japan and China are building coal plants, President Obama’s EPA has proposed two rules that will ensure that no new coal plants be built and that will shutter many of the existing coal-fired plants by 2030. These rules are to be finalized sometime this year.

EPA’s regulation on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants mandates a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions of 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Each state is given a mandated reduction that ranges from 11 percent in North Dakota to 72 percent in Washington, using a baseline established by the EPA. States can meet the reductions by using a combination of four building blocks. No matter which building blocks the states use, however, electricity rates are expected to increase significantly.

According to a study by NERA Economic Consulting, electricity costs will increase by $366 billion between 2017 and 2031, and 43 states can expect double-digit rate increases each year. Utah, Wyoming and Montana—states dependent on coal– will see their rates increase by 20 percent, 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively, each year. Other states can expect to see average rate increases of about 10-15 percent.[xii] Besides these rate increases, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) sees the rule as a significant reliability challenge due to the need to construct new generating and transmission capacity in a constrained time period.[xiii]

These proposed rules are on top of existing EPA rules that are already closing coal-fired power plants. EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) requires that coal-fired power plants incorporate maximum achievable control technologies to control the emissions of acid gases, toxic metals, and mercury by April 2015 with a provision that allows state environmental permitting agencies to grant one-year compliance exemptions. It is estimated that 54 gigawatts of existing coal-fired capacity will be retired due mostly to this rule and additional 49 gigawatts will be retired due to EPA’s ‘Clean Power Plan’ by 2020, making a total of 103 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity removed off the grid by 2020.[xiv]

It is no wonder that NERC is concerned when EPA regulations will be taking a third of the nation’s coal-fired generating capacity off the grid. This is especially true considering that coal-fired plants worked overtime to heat homes and businesses during a deep freeze last winter. American Electric Power, for example, reported 90 percent of its coal plants slated for retirement under pending EPA rules were operating to meet peak demand.[xv]

And while China is opening new massive coal mines, coal mines in the United States are being closed and workers laid off due to EPA regulations and competition from low cost natural gas. For example, a major Appalachian coal mining company is laying off 214 workers in West Virginia and blaming the lost jobs on President Obama’s environmental policies.[xvi]


President Obama pledged the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 to answer his concerns about global warming. The Administration also indicated that meeting that target would also set the stage for the United States to push toward far deeper cuts — perhaps exceeding 80 percent by 2050.[xvii] To reach those reductions, EPA is promulgating rules that will destroy our coal industry and the reliability of our electric grid. While U.S. consumers will see affordable energy disappear, other countries will be building coal-fired plants to keep their lights on and to improve their economies.

[1] Criteria pollutants are particle pollution (often referred to as particulate matter), ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead.

[2] China has a large amount of natural gas in shale formations, but its geology makes it difficult to produce.

[i] Daily Caller, Japan Defies Obama—Plans on Building 43 Coal Plants, April 9, 2015,

[ii] Energy Information Administration, Japan, January 30, 2015,

[iii] Fuel Fix, Japan uses climate cash for coal plants in India, Bangladesh, March 26, 2015,

[iv] The Guardian, UN Green Climate Fund can be spent on coal-fired power generation, March 29, 2015,

[v] Energy Desk, New coal powered plants in China—a (carbon) bubble waiting to burst, February 23, 2015,

[vi] New York Times, China Outpaces U.S. in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants, May 10, 2009,

[vii] Climate Central, China’s Growing Coal Use Is World’s Growing Problem, January 27, 2014,

[viii] Bloomberg, Beijing to Shut All Major Coal Power Plants to Cut Pollution, March 23, 2015,

[ix] Climate Wire, China plans major slowdown of new coal-to-gas projects in bid to cut emissions, December 17, 2014,

[x] Seattle Times, China rethinking plans to build coal-to-gas plants, December 25, 2014,

[xi] Reuters, China approves massive new coal capacity despite pollution fears, January 7, 2014,

[xii] NERA Consulting, Potential Impacts of the EPA Clean Power Plan, October 16, 2014,

[xiii] Wall Street Journal, Why States Should Boycott the Federal Clean Power Plan, April 21, 2015,

[xiv] Institute for Energy Research, Assessing Emerging Policy Threats to the U.S. Power Grid, February 2015,

[xv] npTelegraph, ‘Clean Power could mean blackouts, April 8, 2015,

[xvi] The Hill, Coal company lays off hundreds, blames Obama policies, April 15, 2015,

[xvii] Politico, Barack Obama pledges greenhouse gas emissions cuts, March 31, 2015,

View Comments
  • Frank

    Coal is a very expensive way to make electricity. Wind and solar are much cheaper for the economy. Your article assumes that the pollution is free. It might be to the polluter, but it sure isn’t actually. And have you seen recent PPA’s for wind and solar? Under 6 cents unsubsidized.

    • chad

      you are a retard yes i will admit coal can be harmful to the air quality if not controlled with SCRs, Baghouses, Absorbers and ect. But the bottom line is the Obama administration is ruining this country and we are allowing it!!!!!!! Coal is the cheapest and most efficient way to produce power, yes i belief it needs to be regulated by building new ones and getting rid of the old ones that pollute more! Lets make AMERICA strong again and get that Socialist American hating Democrat out of office and elect a strong Conservative that will not destroy America but make us stronger!

      • chad

        I work at a coal power plant so i should know!

        • Patrick

          I hope all the tree huggers freeze to death in the winter,due to closures of coal fired power plants

          • Ben Franklin

            Last winter we had extensive load shedding by unreliable coal power stations here. Yet no freezing was reported!

        • Frank

          Well, that would certainly explain your bias. Coal plants pay nothing for their emmisions. That is a subsidy. Even with that subsidy, new coal plants cost more than wind and solar, and wind and solar prices are still dropping, so by the time you could actually finish building a coal plant, it will be even worse. One more tip. You kow what has really hurt coal? Frack gas. Go to eia’s web site. Check out the numbers.

      • Ben Franklin

        Do your homework! Both new wind and new solar PV power cost less than new coal fired power.

    • Patrick

      What happens if the wind stops and the sun doesn’t shine?

      • Ben Franklin

        CSP (concentrating solar power) with thermal energy storage delivers electric power on demand — even during the peak demand hours after sunset.

        See eg the 280 MW Solana plant near Phoenix.

    • Ben Franklin

      Indeed. In the Northern Cape, round 4 wind projects cost below $0.05/kWh, and solar PV below $0.07. Coal power from Medupi will cost $0.10, and from Kusile $0.11/kWh.

      • socalphysicist

        The Gruber is strong with this one!

        • Ben Franklin

          Get real. The facts I quoted are well known to anyone with a serious interest in the SA power industry, and are easily found in official SA DoE documents..

    • socalphysicist

      Boy was Gruber right, especially with this one.

    • Leonard

      WRONG!!! Where do you get your pricing numbers?? Currently, wind power could not survive without the government subsidy.

  • Ben Franklin
    • Patrick

      Go hug a tree and see how warm it keeps you this winter!!

      • Ben Franklin

        No need for that. My home & hot water are well heated with solar thermal energy, and warm enough day & night, summer & winter! (I live in an area with summer rains & sunny winters)

        But perhaps you need basic literacy lessons?

  • Patrick

    What about the 7000 jets that fly over your head each day,or the rockets that are launched,don’t you think they are disturbing the ozone layer,yet nothing is said.

  • Ben Franklin

    This article is cherry picking.

    The source it quotes for stating that China in 2014 built so many power stations also points out that “power generation from coal fell by approximately 1.6%”.

    This is because the same article also shows that the average hours Chinese coal power stations operate per year dropped sharply to 4700, that is, to below 54% of the time. That sharp trend appears set to continue.

    • Chris Blumberg

      Yes they also don’t even mention the amount of Coal power plants destroyed. Your article seems to show exactly that, every new power plant being constructed is offsetting old ones they are decommissioning and not using anymore. This is the #1 reason they are reducing coal consumption and they have been doing it for almost a decade.

  • stephan011

    Human-caused climate change is not in doubt within scientific circles and globally, it’s only a small, vocal minority here in the US that continues to deny the reality and severity of human-caused climate change; the rest of the world recognizes the problem and is moving forward. It’s time for us to do the same.

    Long-term solar contract now costs 5.5 cents per kWh unsubsidized and still falling by more that 10% every year, wind is cheaper still. There isn’t any question that coal is going away, the majority of new generation in the US is now renewable (Last year, 70% of *all* new electric generation in the US was solar and wind with natural gas making up the remainder).

    By continuing to fight for a dead-end solution, instead of working towards a future without coal, you do your readers a disservice, Coal exports have cratered, the Chinese are now building a vast network of renewable resources and making dramatic cuts to their coal fleet each year.

    Coal is dead, it’s time to invest in the future.

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