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A worker fixes a natural gas pipe in Xianghe, Hebei province in November 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

Meng Fanlai, Party chief of Yuanxinzhuang village in Baoding, Hebei province, has witnessed a significant change in the past year since the country promoted a shift from coal as a heating source to natural gas and electricity.

"There used to be so many smoggy days in the past, but the air is much cleaner this year. Everyone has seen this," Meng said.

"The whole village has become cleaner, having no dust or smoke from coal-burning."

The village, which isn"t far from Hebei province"s capital, Shijiazhuang, has relied for decades on burning coal for heat in its long, cold winters, just as any average village in the north does.

In March last year, in response to the country"s move to shift from coal to clean energy - that is, electricity and natural gas - as a heating source in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and neighboring cities, the village began its transformation to natural gas instead of coal.

It was not easy, however.

Many villagers were opposed, saying they were used to heating with coal and that it would be too troublesome to change. Some were concerned with the cost, and some were worried about safety and said it would be difficult to learn to use natural gas, Meng recalls.

Even Meng had doubts over the use of natural gas.

He cleared his worries and became supportive of the shift only after seeing, during training conferences that the municipal government organized, how convenient and clean it was to use natural gas.

Meng, 56, has been living in the village of 340 households his whole life and knows each of the 1,484 villagers well.

He and other village officials started installing natural gas heaters in order to set an example for other villagers and to alleviate their worries.

By late August, 340 natural gas heaters had been installed in the village - one for each household.

The village trained four safety inspectors, who are sent to households to direct the safe use of natural gas.

The village also has a WeChat group for better communication between safety inspectors and villagers.

Villagers are now very supportive of the shift from coal to natural gas, according to Meng.

For one thing, the village has become very clean. In the past, people"s nostrils were often dirty and black due to the dust, but that doesn"t happen anymore, Meng said.

Everyone sees how convenient a natural gas heater is and no longer worries about the safety and efficiency of using natural gas as a heating source, he added.

At the same time, although natural gas costs more, the extra expense is not as much as people initially thought, Meng said.

Houses in the village are usually of 150 to 160 square meters and, in the past, a family needed to spend about 3,000 yuan ($475) on average during the winter to keep warm when using coal as a heating source.

With the new method of heating, a family now spends about 5,000 yuan on natural gas for a winter, though because of government subsidies - one yuan for every metric ton of natural gas the family consumes - each family now gets about 1,200 yuan paid by the government since the shift to natural gas.

In addition, apart from using natural gas for heat, it is also used to cook in the village and is much cheaper than the liquefied gas that people used in the past, Meng says.

Li Deyi, 48, from a family of six in the village, said he enjoyed using natural gas.

"We just simply press the control button to start the heater and don"t need to take care of a coal stove. This makes us feel like city inhabitants, and the air quality is much improved," he said.

"The cost is a little higher, but it is worth the convenience."