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China Is Doubling Down on Coal Despite Its Green Ambitions

Nation could add more new coal capacity than the rest of the world combined, even as it prepares to relegate the fossil fuel to a backup role.

A coal fired power plant in Jiayuguan, Gansu province.

A coal fired power plant in Jiayuguan, Gansu province.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

China is building a vast array of new coal-fired power stations, potentially more than the operating capacity of the US, even though it knows the plants will probably never be fully used.

The puzzle of why the world’s leading installer of clean energy is investing so much in the worst polluting — and increasingly expensive — fossil fuel shows the depth of Beijing’s concern over the global squeeze in energy supplies. But it also reflects planning for a gradual relegation of coal’s role, from prime power source to a widely available but often idle backup to China’s rapidly expanding renewables fleet.