Taiyuan community offered more heating options after ‘improper ban’ on coal

People in Taiyuan wear winter clothes. [Photo/IC]

All households in a community in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, have been offered heating options based on their needs after a high-level environmental inspection team found their heating supply had been affected by an improper ban on the use of coal, authorities said.

Eight working teams visited all the affected households this month to seek their suggestions for addressing heating problems. Residents will be offered free clean coal to warm their homes and they can also request more electric heaters if required.

The local government will also offer free accommodation to residents who find it difficult to warm up their homes in the community, which is going to be demolished and rebuilt soon, the city government in a news release.

Taiyuan authorities held an urgent meeting after an inspection team headed by a minister-level official found that the 1,500 residents in the community had been suffering from cold conditions at home because of an improper ban on coal burning that was designed to control air pollution, it added.

The inspection team visited the community on Nov 6, five days after the heating supply was turned on in Taiyuan.

As part of efforts to curb air pollution during the heating supply season, the time of the year with the worst pollution, many regions have been making efforts to shift from coal to clean energy as a heating source for families without central heating.

The top environmental watchdog has reiterated many times that no “one-size-fits-all” approach should be adapted in the shift, noting that heating sources should be chosen based on local conditions, and families could still use coal if conditions were not mature enough for a shift to electricity or natural gas.

A news release from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said that in the absence of central heating and natural-gas-powered heating facilities, the local government had simply given each family in the community an electric radiator, without considering whether they could afford to use them or the state of the wiring in their homes.

Taiyuan authorities said local power suppliers had inspected wiring and electric devices in the community to root out safety hazards.

The release from the ministry quoted a resident as saying: “If we use the radiator based on our needs, it consumes 50 kilowatt-hours of electricity a day. It can only warm up one of our rooms. We cannot afford it.”

A resident would face a bill of almost 1,200 yuan ($173) a month to use an electric radiator.

Inspectors found residents collected whatever they could find to use as heating sources, including discarded furniture, wooden floorboards and tree branches.

The local government didn’t forbid such heating sources, even though some were even more polluting than coal, the ministry said, adding many families only turned on their boilers an hour or two before going to bed because such fuel was in short supply.

“The ban on coal is imposed to ban the pollution,” it said. “It has, however, resulted in more pollution. It’s really absurd.”