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Fast-Growing China to Cut Energy Use in Half in New Buildings

China says it aims to cut energy use in half within five years in new buildings as part of a push for energy efficiency. Experts say weak enforcement and poor pricing means most energy in China is wasted.

China's Ministry of Construction says weak penalties and vague or non-existent standards are contributing to China's poor energy efficiency.

The vice minister of construction, Qiu Baoxing, said at news briefing Thursday that design and construction companies will have to meet new national standards for energy efficiency or face penalties - including losing jobs.

Mr. Qiu says the government will improve the enforcement of laws and regulations and offer tax cuts and discount loans to construction companies that use energy efficient materials.

Experts say China wastes vast amount of energy, particularly for heat in the bitter winters felt in the country's central and northern regions.

One problem is that fuel prices are not always set by the market. In some northern areas, energy bills are based on location rather than the amount of fuel used - that means consumers often use more than needed.

"Fifty to 80 percent of the electricity the customer gets he wastes," said James Brock, an energy consultant in Beijing. "So, there's tremendous opportunities in the system here to improve it. And, these costs are fairly low. It requires simply the decision to do so."

China's explosive economic growth has pushed energy consumption past its capacity.

Power shortages have triggered brown outs in some major industrial areas, hurting manufacturing output. This has happened despite a massive campaign to build hydroelectric stations and nuclear power plants and to find new sources of oil overseas.

The country's reliance on aging, dirty coal power plants also adds to the thick air pollution that blankets most of its cities. The pollution is creating health problems and is causing concern to neighboring governments, which often see their skies filled with pollutants from China.

The vice minister's remarks Thursday suggest the leadership is turning its attention to making more efficient use of energy resources.