BEIJING (Reuters) - Greenpeace East Asia said on Wednesday that China had a total of 210 coal power projects in the pipeline"for environmental assessment permitting at the end of 2015, despite overcapacity in the industry and pollution concerns.
Of those, 95 projects received final regulatory permits that would allow construction to begin, Greenpeace said in a report. Construction began on at least 66 coal power projects with a combined capacity of 73 gigawatts (GW), Greenpeace added, some of which had received approval in a previous year.
"There is a very rapid and accelerating net increase in coal-fired generating capacity," Lauri Myllyvirta, the group's senior global campaigner on coal, told Reuters.
China suffers from severe air pollution and is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. Some 70 percent of its electricy comes from coal-fired power plants, which are a major source of greenhouse gases.
The country aims to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by increasing the share of nuclear, hydro, wind and solar power, with the goal of cutting emissions of major pollutants in the power sector 60 percent by 2020. China already has the world's largest capacity of photovoltaic solar power.
The head of China's National Energy Administration said recently that it would limit which provinces coal plants can be built in, as well as postpone the approval and construction of some plants, while cancelling others. The NEA also said it aims to close more than 1,000 coal mines this year.
China's power consumption was 5.550 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2015, up just 0.5 percent compared to the year before, with power generation down 0.2 percent even as generation capacity grew 10.4 percent.
Generation capacity for thermal power - most of which is coal - rose 7.8 percent, even as thermal generation fell 2.8 percent, meaning that the number of idle coal power plants grew last year.
Power plant utilization rates fell to lowest point since 1978 last year.
(Reporting by Adam Rose; Additional reporting by Kathy Chen and Louise Heavens)