* China aims to restrict 2011-2015 energy growth to 4.3 pct * Target not binding, economy still likely to be priority (Adds details, quotes, table) By David Stanway and Nick Edwards BEIJING, Jan 24 China will aim to limit total annual primary energy consumption to 4 billion tonnes of coal equivalent by 2015 as it tries to improve efficiency and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and pollution, the government said. China, the world's biggest energy consuming country, has promised to cut energy intensity -- the amount used per unit of GDP growth -- by 16 percent over the 2011-2015 period as it tries to address crucial issues such as pollution, waste and a growing dependence on overseas oil and gas supplies. But the government, in its five-year energy plan published late on Wednesday, said the gross energy target will not be binding and analysts said Beijing's priority in the next few years will remain economic growth. "I can hardly imagine they would sacrifice growth just for this. It is very unlikely," said Wei Yao, China economist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong. Curbing energy use, especially coal, will help prevent a repeat of the smog that enveloped Beijing earlier this month. The pollution was the worst on record and triggered widespread public anger and rare media criticism. Environmentalists and analysts highlight lax enforcement of pollution laws, an addiction to coal and a slew of incentives for local officials to promote growth at all costs as some of the causes of heavy pollution. In the plan, China said it would aim to reduce the share of coal in total energy consumption to around 65 percent, and raise the share of natural gas to 7.5 percent. It has also made a binding commitment to raise the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 11.4 percent of the total by 2015. Total primary energy consumption stood at 3.48 billion tonnes of coal equivalent in 2011, up almost 7.1 percent compared to 2010. To stay within the cap, the average economic growth rate from 2012 to 2015 needs to fall to around 3.5 percent, much lower than the 8.1 percent target for this year. NOT BINDING The much delayed scheme has been subject to rigorous behind-the-scenes horse-trading by local governments and big state-owned enterprises. The final cap is higher than the original 3.8 billion-tonne figure proposed in 2010, but lower than the 4.1 billion-tonne rate submitted for approval last year. Improving efficiency throughout the whole economy is the main challenge, but any attempt to impose the energy cap could highlight the difficulties posed by vested interests, said Yao. "They have to do more consolidation in heavy industry to deal with all this excess capacity in the steel sector, the chemicals sector, but there are a lot of interests in these sectors from local governments and state enterprises," she said. The document said the energy cap will not be legally binding, with the government still struggling to determine how the target will be allocated to individual provinces and industries, which are already facing mandatory carbon and energy intensity targets. "It would make more sense to having only binding targets for energy types like coal and oil, but not renewables or natural gas, where they need much more," said Yang Fuqiang, senior energy advisor at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But if they have binding targets for coal it is difficult because the data is not accurate," he said. China has already set mandatory targets to reduce energy intensity and carbon intensity is also set to fall by 17 percent over the period. It has promised to introduce more "market mechanisms" to allow provinces and industries to meet the targets, saying it does not want to see a repeat of late 2010, when local governments forced enterprises to shut down in a last-gasp effort to cut 2006-2010 energy use. With growth the overriding priority, China has usually struggled to rein in spiralling energy consumption growth, which has exceeded most predictions in recent years. A 2006 government plan forecast total consumption to stand at 2.5 billion tonnes of coal equivalent by the end of 2010, significantly below the actual figure of 3.2 billion. China's former top energy official, Zhang Guobao, said in late May that China's total energy consumption was likely to reach at least 5 billion tonnes of coal equivalent by 2020. Following is a table showing China's major energy targets for 2015, as detailed in the five-year plan. 2010 2015 Av growth Status Primary energy 3.25 bln 4 bln TCE 4.3 pct forecast consumption TCE Non-fossil fuel 8.6 pct of 11.4 pct binding energy total of total Civil power 4.2 trln 6.15 trln 8.0 pct forecast consumption kWh kWh Unit GDP energy 0.81 0.68 -16 pct binding consumption TCE/10,000 TCE/10,000 yuan yuan Primary energy 2.97 bln 3.66 bln 4.3 pct forecast production TCE TCE capacity Coal production 3.24 bln T 4.1 bln T 4.8 pct forecast capacity Natural gas 94.8 bln 156.5 bln 10.5 pct forecast production cu m cu m capacity Power capacity 970 GW 1,490 GW 9 pct forecast Source: State Council Twelfth Five-Year Plan on Energy Development (Editing by Tom Hogue and Miral Fahmy)
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