Jan 06, 2011 06:02 PM

China's Energy Agency Gets New Director

A National Development and Reform Commission vice chairman with a reputation for coordinating coal and power suppliers during peak demand periods is expected to be named the new head of the National Energy Administration.

An NDRC official told Caixin that Liu Tienan, who's held a vice chairman's slot at the economic planning agency since 2008, is in line to succeed NEA Chief Director Zhang Guobao.

Top officials sealed Zhang's departure at a December 24 meeting and handed news of his pending retirement to the media. An official announcement was expected soon.

Liu, 56, was responsible for a series of industrial policies and developing the revitalization plans for nine industries in late 2008. A signal that his job focus would shift to the energy arena came during his recent inspection tours of power producer China Huaneng and petrochemical giant Sinopec.

Liu worked at the former State Development Planning Commission for years before being transferred to NDRC in 2003. His areas of responsibility included economic operations regulation, cross-industry coordination and finance, and banking. Over the years, he has headed the Bureau of Economic Operations Adjustment, Department of Industry, and Department of Fiscal and Financial Affairs.

A steel industry source close to Liu called him a quiet, prudent "man of action with strong work ethic."

He also earned a reputation at NDRC, which overseas NEA, as an experienced coordinator with a low-key, prudent manner toward enterprise oversight.

Liu's predecessor Zhang, 66, has served as NEA's director since the agency was created in 2008. He's also worked as an NDRC vice chairman since 2003, after four years in charge of energy resources at the state planning commission.

Questions in recent months about Zhang's successor led to rumors that he would be succeeded by Liu Qi, deputy director of NEA, or perhaps another NDRC vice chairman, Zhang Xiaoqiang. The president of offshore oil giant CNOOC, Fu Chengyu, also was said to be a candidate before Liu Tienan got the nod.

Slow Reform

Advocates of reforming the nation's electric power system say Zhang was never keen to power supply reform. During his term at NEA, they say, the reform process sometimes stagnated or even fell backward.

An example of his oversight impact can be found in the story of power distributor State Grid's 2010 acquisition of upstream electricity equipment manufacturers XJ Group and Pinggao Group. Reformers said NEA's approval of the move ran against a guiding principle for power reform: Separate power supply and support sectors.

Meanwhile, State Grid has launched a massive 10-year program to build an ultra-high voltage (UHV) power system. More than 600 billion yuan is to be invested by 2020, even though many experts have expressed serious doubts about program, calling it wasteful and dangerous.

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