Central Beijing says bye to coal-fired boilers

Updated: 2011-11-16 07:42

By Zheng Xin (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The last 155 coal-fired boilers in two central Beijing districts have been shut down and replaced by gas and electronic steam boilers to improve air quality in the capital, according to the local environmental protection bureau.

Without the burning of 300,000 tons of coal each year, the gas and electronic steam boilers will help reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 2,360 tons and smoke dust emissions by 800 tons each year, said Liu Wei, deputy chief of the atmosphere division of the Beijing environmental protection bureau.

The new environmental friendly boilers - which cover all of Dongcheng and Xicheng districts in the central part of Beijing - will affect 12 million square meters of building area of 90,000 households.

"We've been fighting against coal-fired boilers for 13 years and the results have been satisfying," said Liu.

According to the environmental protection bureau, since Beijing gradually began replacing coal-fired boilers in 1998, the capital has reduced yearly emissions of sulfur dioxide by 55,000 tons and smoke dust by 19,000 tons, a great enhancement to the capital's air quality.

"In response to the recent smoggy days, some may blame the environmental protection bureau for its 'neglect of duty'," said Zhuang Zhidong, deputy director of the Beijing environmental protection bureau. "But we've been making consistent efforts in improving the capital's environment. The process takes time."

Liu said that in the past Beijing would go through a three-month period of heavy pollution as the capital entered the heating season. "Some residents living near the coal-fired boilers would not even dare to open their windows too often since the chimneys were pouring out dark smoke," said Liu.

Xu Qi, with the Xicheng district's environmental protection bureau, said even with dust hoods on the chimneys of the coal-fired boilers, there was still dark smoke pouring out.

"However, as the gas-fired boilers replace the old machines, there's only water vapor coming out," said Xu, pointing at the chimney of the four gas-fired boilers at the Maliandao heating plant in Xicheng district, which has just replaced all four coal-fired boilers.

A retired woman surnamed Liu living near the heating plant said she was glad the chimney outside her apartment would stop spewing dark smoke this year and was looking forward to the better air quality brought by the new boilers.

For the heating plants, the cost remains generally unchanged because the maintenance for gas-fired boilers is relatively cheap compared with coal-fired boilers.

"Natural gas is more expensive than coal," said Xu. "But it saves on maintenance besides its environmental benefits."

For residents near the plants who have paid 19 yuan ($3) per square meter of floor space per season for heating with coal-fired boilers, the price for gas heating will rise to 30 yuan per sq m every heating season.

Some residents find the price increase "not a big deal since the new energy will eventually benefit the environment", according to 23-year-old Beijing resident Xu Mingzhe.

Others find the extra charge too much. "I think it's the government's duty to subsidize the heating plants rather than the residents," said Wang Yu, 25, a Beijing resident. "Since temperatures indoors remain the same there's no reason for us to pay extra for it."

Yet there are still coal-fired boilers in the suburbs, mainly due to old infrastructure, Liu said. "The coal-fired boilers still account for 40 percent of the heating plants in all the districts and counties of Beijing."