ZHENGZHOU, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- Yang Zhongqi from Niecun Village in the city of Anyang bid farewell to coal-fired heating last year at a cost of 2,710 yuan (about 408 U.S. dollars): 1,410 yuan for a gas heater and 1,300 yuan for gas.
The government offered him nearly 2,000 yuan to replace his old coal furnace with a cleaner source.
"It is more expensive than burning coal, but it is acceptable and more convenient," Yang said.
Yang is one of 200,000 households in Anyang of central China's Henan Province who has abandoned coal use for heating in winter, with government support.
Air quality usually worsens in late autumn and winter in northern China due to less wind and an over-reliance on coal. To improve air quality, China is pushing the use of clean fuel during winter.
The central and local governments are spending vast sums of money to ensure clean winter heating in northern China. Local governments have taken measures to reduce coal consumption, improve coal quality, raise emission standards and curb hazardous coal burning.
In Henan, the provincial government expects at least a further 50,000 households to switch from coal-fired heating to gas or power by the end of the year.
Kang Ailing from Beiliwan village of the city of Jiaozuo replaced her coal stove with an air conditioner. Besides receiving 2,000 yuan from the government, Kang was also entitled to receive a further maximum of 1,000 yuan from the government for using electricity for heating.
"We used to worry about the safety of burning coal in the winter, but not anymore, with our new air conditioner," Kang said.
Similar to Henan, 1.21 million households in Tianjin, which borders Beijing, will switch from coal-fired heating to gas and electricity by the end of 2018, according to Wen Wurui, director of Tianjin Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
Wen said 610,000 households would switch to clean energy by the end of the year, and the rest will shift next year.
Tianjin plans to cut annual coal consumption by another 2.6 million tonnes this year after reducing it by 10 million tonnes between 2013 and 2016.
According to the government work report this year, China will address pollution caused by coal with measures including advancing clean central winter heating in the northern region and replacing coal with electricity and natural gas in more than 3 million households.
However, the coal replacement program has encountered many challenges such as resource shortages, soaring heating costs and insufficient government financing in this regard.
Government efforts to control air pollution by reducing coal use has led to a higher demand for electricity and natural gas. But resource shortages have made large-scale switching problematic.
In addition, as the program expands into less-developed areas, the rising heating cost makes many residents unwilling to change.
Li Fengchun, a villager with Wenfeng district in Anyang has looked over her expenses. She spent around 1,500 yuan burning coal last winter. This year she spent more than 5,000 yuan to purchase a wall-hanging gas boiler and natural gas.
"Using natural gas is more convenient but also more expensive even though we got the government subsidy," Li said.
Even the local government felt the pinch. According to Yang Li, an official with development and reform commission in the city of Jiaozuo, the city will offer a subsidy of 180 million yuan to replace coal with electricity and natural gas this year.
"But the funding gap is very big," Yang said.
Many officials from cities such as Jiaozuo and Anyang suggest that the central government should increase financial support.