Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China is facing its worst energy shortage in many years, with heightened demand caused by the intense cold and the snow, and insufficient coal supplies unable to keep up. After an energy shortage that has struck at least 13 provinces and reached about 70 gigawatts, approximately equal to the entire capacity of Great Britain, the government has ordered that coal be supplied first of all to the power plants.
The imposition of price controls on coal and the closing of thousands of mines not in compliance with safety regulations have affected coal supplies. The heavy snowfall of recent days has blocked the roads, cut off supply routes, and downed power lines. In seven counties, the power circuits have been completely shut down, leaving 129,000 families without power, while bad weather is hampering repair efforts. In Hubei and Anhui alone, the provinces hardest hit by the snow, the energy shortage has affected 10 million people, and more than a million hectares of crops have been destroyed, at an estimated loss of 1.83 billion yuan. In Wuhan, the capital of Hubei located on the frozen Yangtze river, there have been intermittent blackouts all week, the worst since 1997. Coal fuels 78% of the country's power plants, and produced about 83% of the energy used in 2007.
According to experts, the current coal shortage is due above all to the imposition of price controls, as the sellers watch the price of coal rise rapidly in the world and wait for the government to permit higher prices in the next few months.
In many of the provinces, like Yunnan, Guizhou, and Hubei, drought has aggravated the situation by reducing the production of hydroelectric power.
The previous crisis dates back to 2004, but this was a shortfall of "only" 40 gigawatts, due above all to the excessive use of air conditioners.
Meanwhile, the country continues to suffer from the damages of the heavy snowfalls that began on January 12. As many of the roads remain blocked, many cities have problems with water, gas, and heating. Wuhan has no water, after the intense cold caused five thousand ruptures in the old, 2,000 kilometre-long aqueduct. In southern Xinjiang, the temperature has fallen to -25 degrees centigrade, and has killed thousands of farm animals. Today there has been a reprieve from the snow, but the meteorologists forecast fresh precipitation the day after tomorrow, and especially for January 27.