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China's energy crackdown: more PR than big efficiency step?

As part of a China energy crackdown to meet efficiency targets, leaders are directing 2,000 factories to close. But it appears many of the locales have already been shuttered.

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A tree stands in front of the water-cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Beijing July 21. As part of a China energy crackdown to meet efficiency targets, leaders are directing 2,000 factories to close by Sept. 30. However, many appear to have shut down already, some as long as two years ago.

Jason Lee/Reuters

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The Chinese government’s much-ballyhooed new pledge to close thousands of energy-guzzling factories seems more a public signal of its intent to boost energy efficiency than a concrete step.

That is because, of the 2,087 factories threatened with closure by Sept. 30, listed on the Industry Ministry’s website on Sunday night, many appear to have shut down already, some as long as two years ago.
 
Three out of 4 blacklisted companies contacted by The Christian Science Monitor said the facilities targeted for closure were no longer functional.
 
“We shut down those two furnaces in early 2009,” said a staffer at the Aosen Steel Company in Xinji, who identified himself only as Mr. Wang. “For many other steel companies, if their facilities are on the list, most of them are already either dismantled or out of use.”
 
At the Ningbo Zhenjiang Tongbao Paper Co., where three of its mills are on the ministry’s list, it was a similar story. “We shut those mills in March 2008,” said spokesman Pan Guangshu. “They were very old. We are installing new machinery that will burn sawdust instead of coal and is more energy efficient.”

The government’s warning that companies must shut outdated plants within six weeks or lose access to bank loans, new investment, and land for construction followed a threat last May by Premier Wen Jiabao that he would use an “iron hand” to increase energy efficiency.
 
It also came three days after the government revealed it had canceled preferential power tariffs for energy-intensive companies run by local governments.

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