Loading coal in Heilongjiang province. Photo: Reuters/Jason Lee

China could waste up to half a trillion dollars on unnecessary new coal-fired power stations, a climate campaign group said on Monday, arguing that the world’s top carbon polluter already has more than enough such facilities.

The Asian giant’s rise to become the world’s second largest economy was largely powered by cheap, dirty coal.

But as growth slows, the country has had a difficult time weaning itself off the fuel, even as the pollution it causes wreaks havoc on the environment and public health.

Many of China’s giant state-owned coal mining firms are unviable and plagued by overcapacity, but the ruling Communist Party is reluctant to turn off the financial taps and risk widespread unemployment, with could result in anger and unrest.

As of July, China already had 895 GW from coal-fired power stations – representing more than half its electricity generation – according to the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, which argues for limiting carbon emissions using financial data.

The country was operating its coal units at less than half their capacity, the organisation said, but “perversely” had another 205 GW already under construction and plans for an additional 405 GW.

At an estimated US$800 million per kW, that could cost US$490 billion in total, CTI said. “This misallocation of capital is a microcosm of wider structural woes within the Chinese economy,” it said in its report.

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