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Wind of change for China's energy

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Wind farms, like this one near Shanghai, are becoming an increasingly popular way of powering China.

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HUITENGXILE, China (CNN) -- Once the stomping ground of Genghis Khan, the heart of rural Inner Mongolia is an unlikely center of innovation.

Here, the sheep graze in the shadows of 94 turbines scattered across the landscape, which pump millions of watts of renewable power into China's grid.

Sitting 2,000 meters above sea level, there are plans to make the Huitengxile Wind Power Plant the largest wind farm in China.

In such an energy-hungry country the plant's output is a drop in the bucket, but wind farms could be the solution to the problem of how to keep powering the country's economic growth.

"There are many favorable conditions here. We have abundant wind resources, and we're close to the national power network. This is becoming a world class wind farm," plant director Li Yilun told CNN.

The turbines are imported from Denmark, Spain, Germany and Holland. The newest, biggest and most powerful were built by American-based giant GE Energy.

The company's turbines are in use all over China, including at a plant just outside Shanghai.

GE Power China CEO Steve Fludder told CNN that during the past year, the wind business has picked up in China.

"Each one of these turbines generates 1.5 megawatts or 15,000 kilowatts of power -- that's enough power for approximately 1,000 Chinese homes," he said.

"China is really at a crossroads in its overall energy policy. China is really shifting from a focus on buildup of capacity in the last few years to a focus on more environmentally friendly technologies."

It is not hard to see why -- Chinese cities are choking on dirty air, and the primary cause is coal, which has been fueling China's staggering pace of growth, and making it one of the most polluted countries on Earth.

A renewable energy law was passed this year, setting lofty goals for clean power.

That is good news for projects like the wind farm, but its backers admit it is still tough to compete with coal because wind is not cheap.

Wu Jinglong, vice president of North United Power Corporation, told CNN.

"We have developed slowly because of the low price of coal electricity. The investment in a wind farm is much higher than for a traditional coal power station."

Large companies like GE are hoping to use their vast resources to bring down the cost.

"We draw upon our aircraft engine to design the blades. We call upon our locomotive business for the gearing technology," Fludder said.

"We have a multitude of other businesses that have a technology base that supports the technology that it takes to make wind energy cost-effective and reliable. "

Small entrepreneurs want in too.

Engineer and entrepreneur Zhimin Lin left the software business to help start a turbine manufacturing company in his home province.

"The wind power industry will be big time from now on. And China, in the next five to 15 years will grow bigger than 100 per cent a year," he told CNN.

There is good reason for his optimism -- New wind farms are springing up all over China.

And with every turn of the blades, China moves a few watts closer to easing its power crunch.

CNN's James MacDonald contributed to this report.

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