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As skies clear, Qinshui's greening attracts tourists

China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-13 09:13
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TAIYUAN-With pollution improving, photographer Wu Haizhan now spends a lot more time taking pictures of starry skies at his local forest park.

"Stars that used to be difficult to spot can be seen easily now," said Wu, who has frequented the Taihang Honggu National Forest Park in Qinshui county, Shanxi province, for the past five years.

The park is home to a dark sky reserve and was placed on the World List of Dark Sky Places by the International Union for Conservation of Nature last year.

Shanxi has traditionally been China's top coal-producing province, long troubled by high carbon emissions and pollution, but in recent years, the local government has improved the situation in its shift to green development.

China aims to achieve peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. According to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the share of coal in China's energy mix declined from 72.4 percent in 2005 to 56.8 percent in 2020.

The intensity of carbon emissions dropped 48.4 percent during the same period.

In Qinshui, coal production is expected to amount to more than 35 million metric tons this year, but the county is also keeping air quality in check. All six of its air quality indicators met national standards last year.

Local governments have ordered coal mines to store and transport coal in enclosed containers to reduce dust pollution. Coal seam gas, a main cause of carbon emissions during mining, is being recycled at many mines instead of being directly released into the air.

Qinshui is home to China's largest coal seam gas power plant, which is run by the Qinshui Sihe Gas Power Generation. The company has used 2.74 billion cubic meters of gas since 2008, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by about 41 million tons, according to Wang Jianmin, general manager of the company.

Coal seam gas is also being encouraged as a means of cooking and winter heating to replace coal. It is estimated that 92 percent of the heating in the county will be gas-powered by the end of this year.

Zhang Xiaopu stopped burning coal eight years ago. With no more smoke and fly ash, her village of 510 residents, which used to be shrouded in dust on windy days, now has clean streets and fresh air.

One cubic meter of gas costs the villagers 1.3 yuan ($0.20), and each receives a subsidy for 800 cubic meters per year.

"Using gas for heating is more convenient than coal," the 60-year-old said.

In the past three years, the installed capacity of power generated by wind and solar energy in Qinshui has reached 200 megawatts. Two more wind power projects are under construction, and a biomass project is also in the pipeline.

Ma Jingyu, head of the Yuanshang wind farm that belongs to the China Energy Engineering Investment Corp, said the farm would produce in excess of 200 million kilowatt-hours this year, providing clean electricity for 170,000 households.

The electricity generated per year is equivalent to burning 64,500 tons of coal and represents a reduction of about 188,600 tons of carbon dioxide.

Qinshui's improving environment has encouraged tourism, bringing visitors and additional income to farmers around the Taihang Honggu park.

In Xiangyang village, which is near the park, Yan Fangqin, the 50-year-old owner of an agritainment project, can earn up to 100,000 yuan in three months during peak season.

"As the environment improves, I have more regular guests, and more wild animals, including monkeys and leopards, have also begun to appear," he said.


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