March 28, 2016 / 9:25 AM / 4 years ago

China's polluted Hebei promises clean-up for 2022 Winter Games

BEIJING (Reuters) - The top official in China’s northern province of Hebei, one of the country’s most polluted, has vowed to use the staging of the 2022 Winter Olympics to drive efforts to cut smog, promote clean energy and ease dependence on heavy industry.

A woman sells hot food to a driver stranded on a highway between Beijing and Hebei province, China, that is closed due to smog on an extremely polluted day in this November 30, 2015 file picture. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/Files

The city of Zhangjiakou, around 200 km (124 miles) from Beijing, will stage skiing and snowboarding events during the 2022 winter games, awarded to China last year.

But the plan has fueled concern, as Beijing is prone to air pollution and Hebei was home to China’s seven smoggiest cities last year, largely because of its dependence on heavy industries, such as coal-fired power and steel production.

Speaking at a weekend meeting on preparations for the Olympics, Zhao Kezhi, the provincial Communist Party chief, said Hebei would work to meet targets for cutting cut industrial overcapacity, coal consumption and air pollution.

“We must use the staging of the Winter Olympics as an opportunity to stimulate economic and social development, speed up our transformation and upgrading, expand effective investment and strengthen poverty alleviation,” Zhao said, in an account of the meeting published on Hebei’s government website on Monday.

Hebei aims to cut coal consumption by 40 million tonnes over the period from 2013 to 2017 and slash its 2013 levels of small particulate matter in almost half by 2020. It will also reduce annual crude steel capacity below 200 million tonnes by 2020.

Zhao said the plans included the planting of new forest and the creation of an ecological conservation zone around Zhangjiakou, where a “renewable energy demonstration zone” would also be set up.

Zhangjiakou plans to boost total renewable electricity capacity to 1.28 gigawatts by 2017. It is already the site of 500 megawatts of wind capacity, 100 MW of solar panels and 70 MW of power storage capacity at a renewable energy demonstration project run by the China State Grid Corporation.

The facility tests new renewable equipment models, with fuel cells designed to offset the intermittent nature of wind and solar power for safer connection to transmission lines.

China has repeatedly pledged to hold an environmentally-friendly Winter Games.

Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games to wide acclaim, but its bid for the Winter Games was dogged by concerns over issues ranging from the city’s notorious smog problem to a lack of snow and the country’s poor record on human rights.

Reporting by David Stanway and Kathy Chen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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