fredag 8. oktober 2021

Hammered by Blackouts, China’s Rust Belt Grinds Down

Recently, the entrance road to Xingcheng Powder Metallurgy Company is unusually dark at night. The only lights left on are those of the guard hut, leaving the rest of the facilities, a sizable factory that makes automotive gears, obscured by darkness. “We turned off the streetlights to save power,” a security guard at the company, located in the coastal city Huludao, tells Sixth Tone.

Like many cities across China’s coal-dependent northeast, Huludao is in the middle of an energy crisis. Since September, high coal costs and inflexible electricity prices have caused shortages that forced local governments to implement rolling blackouts for energy-intensive industries. The shortages made national news when, starting Sept. 23, they became so “severe” that power to residential areas was cut unannounced to prevent the grid from collapsing, provincial authorities said.

By Saturday, when Sixth Tone visited the city, residential power had been restored in line with calls by the central government to make sure people could enjoy “a warm winter.” But usage curbs for companies were still in place across northeast China, hurting businesses and threatening the government’s revitalization plans for what is known as China’s rust belt, which has also had to contend with several COVID-19 outbreaks.

At the metallurgical plant, employees working through the National Day holiday week that began Oct. 1 had all been moved to the night shift. Gao Song, a worker at the factory, tells Sixth Tone the plant had canceled daytime shifts to avoid using power during peak hours.