Wind farms change the air in China

Scott Tong Mar 16, 2009

Wind farms change the air in China

Scott Tong Mar 16, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: Today the Chinese government came up with a twist on how to control greenhouse gases. Or, to put it another way, change who’s responsible for controlling greenhouse gases. Beijing’s top climate guy says that since 25 percent of its emissions come from producing goods for export countries that buy those goods ought to be responsible for the pollution. Whether that’ll catch on or not we’ll leave to international trade negotiators.

But China is investing more in green technologies. Sustainable power is a key element of its half trillion dollar economic stimulus package. And wind is a big part of that. Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports now from the prairies of Inner Mongolia.

SCOTT TONG: This is China’s version of the Great Plains:
It’s the land of wide open spaces, diary farms and these days, wind farms, for electricity. Forty giant metal windmills churn at this power plant. And the closer you get, the louder they whoosh.

Now to many Americans, a bunch of high-tech propellers on sticks wins the ugly contest.
But in China they’re a tourist trap: photo opportunity for the masses. One other difference: This global credit crunch has done nothing to slow down the growth of this industry. Li Hualin represents alternative energy companies.

Li hualin: Wind power is a government controlled industry. It’s relatively easy for state-owned firms to borrow. State-owned banks trust them.

For every dollar invested in a wind farm, 70 cents is borrowed. And these days, Chinese banks are shoveling loans to infrastructure projects faster than ever, to keep revving this economy. So David Dollar at the World Bank thinks China’s green push could accelerate.

DAVID Dollar: Almost any kind of fiscal stimulus will help the economy grow in the short run. But I think the Chinese are being smart about this. And they’re thinking, not only how do we stimulate the economy right now, but what are the investments that will put us in a better place in the future?

China’s motivation isn’t so much altruism, or worrying about the future of the planet.
It’s the air quality disaster here, today.

Take tailpipes: Every single day 1500 new cars hit the streets of Beijing. The other culprit is coal: 80 percent of China’s power comes from burning it, compared to 50 percent in the States. And China’s energy thirst is unquenchable, says Barbara Finamore of the National Resources Defense Council.

BARBARA Finamore: China’s overall energy demand has been growing at an astronomical rate. They have been adding the equivalent of the entire electricity capacity of France every year.

To try to wean itself off coal, China subsidizes renewable sources like wind. Think of it as financial growth steroids for Chinese wind power companies. William Dodson is with the consultancy Asia Base.

William Dodson: And once they have learned the rudiments of the technology, they’ll be producing at half the cost.

The China Price, that’s what low-cost labor does for shoes, toys, laptop computers. And in the case of green power, the whole point is to get cheap enough to compete with coal, or oil or gas. And eventually, Dodson thinks China will take this green leap forward and export it.

Dodson: We may see wind turbines off the coast of Saudi Arabia, or off of Vietnam, off the Ivory Coast. Because the Chinese were able to bring the technology down to a cost level that these developing economies could afford.

Here in China, these whirling wind farms will keep sprouting up, for the foreseeable future. Every year, the country doubles its wind power capacity. At this rate, it’ll blow past the U.S. and become the world’s top producer by 2020.

In Inner Mongolia, northern China, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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