Top energy planners are seeking, in the next five years, to raise China's coal output to an unprecedented level and, at the same time, reduce the number of large mining disasters.
China's coal output will be between 2.5 billion and 2.6 billion tons in 2010, as compared with 2.19 billion tons in 2005, according to Guo Yuntao, director of the China Development Research Centre for the Coal Industry, in an interview with China Daily.
The growth rate being forecast by the planning team led by Guo is much slower than in the last five years, when China's coal output rose from about 1.3 billion tons in 2000.
The forecast was based on the belief that the overall economy will become more energy efficient and that demand is likely to rise significantly only in the power sector, Guo said.
His centre is drafting China's coal industry development blueprint for the coming five years, following the national 11th Five-year (2006-10) Social and Economic Development Plan approved by National People's Congress (NPC) deputies at its annual session that closed in Beijing on Tuesday.
The team is providing the final touches to their draft before submitting it, at the end of March, for approval by the National Development and Reform Commission and the State Council, China's cabinet.
Guo said coal will remain China's fundamental energy source, both for production and consumption.
In terms of production, coal accounted for 76 per cent of China's energy needs in 2005, calculated using the Standard Coal Equivalent (SCE) measure. According to Guo, that level has a chance to climb all the way up to 80 per cent after 2010.
To satisfy growing domestic energy demands, the country will decrease its coke exports in the coming years, the planning director said.
China's rapidly growing economy, which is expected to register an annual growth rate of 7.5 per cent for its gross domestic product (GDP) this year, will create enormous demand for energy supplies. But the nation's energy conservation campaign is just beginning, which should mean more energy efficiency.
China's energy consumption record was an average 1.43 tons of SCE for every 10,000 yuan (US$1,234) of GDP in 2005. This is the same as 2004, despite the central government's pledge to significantly reduce energy waste from 2006 to 2010.
Guo said the coal plan was not only "a blueprint for producing more, but also a programme for resource conservation and work safety."
Guo said the industry's authorities will try hard to prevent large accidents particularly ones killing 100 miners or more. "That will be a major task for the industry," he said.
In stark contrast with planned goals, 2005 was a tragic year as there were four major accidents. Since 1949, there have been a total of just 22 similar-sized accidents in China.
He said the country will streamline its small-scale coal mines and speed up construction of 13 national-level production bases, each capable of turning out over 100 million tons of coal annually. These will be in coal-rich regions such as Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia.
Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety Supervision, recently said that China would shut down 4,000 small coal mines annually over the next three years. "We can keep at most 10,000 or so small coal mines," said Zhao, who also promised to drastically reduce major accidents within two years.
China now has 24,000 small coal mines with an annual production capacity ranging from 10,000 tons to 30,000 tons. They account for 70 per cent of the total number of coal mines.
Small coal mines have not only led to serious resource waste and pollution, but also threatened work safety, said Guo. "Closing them down won't affect the country's overall output," he pledged.
He said the 13 large production bases were enough to help China meet its growing demand.