On the edge of this dusty farming hamlet, the massive smokestack of the half-finished Xinfeng Power Plant looms as a monument to China’s out-of-control demand for energy.
Unlike two other power plants nearby, Xinfeng isn’t supposed to exist. China’s electricity regulators never authorized the $362 million coal-burning plant. But in 2004, the provincial government here in northern China’s Inner Mongolia ignored Beijing’s call to slow down investment and started building the plant anyway, hoping to ensure enough juice for the region’s supercharged industrialization by tapping its rich reservoirs of coal.
Inner Mongolia’s disobedience might have escaped notice. But in July 2005, in the rush to finish the plant before regulators found out about it, the housing for a turbine collapsed, killing six workers. During the yearlong investigation that followed, the central government discovered that Inner Mongolia had illegally built about 10 power plants, or 8.6 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity — equal to about a 10th of the United Kingdom’s total capacity.[Full Text]