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Bolt from the blue

Oct 30,2018
The government has changed its plan for the development of Saemangeum, a reclaimed tidal flat on the coast of the Yellow Sea in North Jeolla. The area was designated as a site for a large industrial complex. But the Moon Jae-in administration has added to the project the construction of a large complex to generate electricity through solar panels and windmills on land and sea by 2022. The complex, if constructed, will produce a combined 4 gigawatt hours on a space of 38 square kilometers (9,390 acres), which amounts to 13 times the size of Yeouido Island in Seoul.

The administration will announce the plan today. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency said that the government intends to build the renewable energy complex on some of the land and sea that have not attracted private investments. “We will proceed with other projects in the reclaimed flat as scheduled and there would be no change in the government’s plan to turn Saemangeum into an economic hub of the West Sea,” said the ministry and the agency.

We understand their difficulty in attracting investments from the private sector, as seen in cancellations of their original investment plans. But we can hardly understand why the government significantly changed the purpose of the project. The government boasted of its ability to communicate with involved parties whenever a controversy arose in the process of implementing policies, but it skipped that process this time.

Moreover, a renewable energy complex, once built, should be used for at least 20 years. The government’s stealthy decision will have a huge impact on the local economy, mostly comprised of manufacturing businesses. Yet it plans to announce the new plan today without any public notification.

We cannot dispel suspicions about the real reason for the government’s push for a massive renewable energy complex. The government says it will draw a 10 trillion won ($8.7 billion) investment from the private sector and spend some of the profits to develop the area. As power generation through renewable energy sources cost too much, investors can hardly expect profits in the near future, which calls for a tremendous amount of subsidies. Who would really invest without a promise of hefty government subsidies?

The government’s shift will confuse the public. They will link it to its relentless push to phase out nuclear reactors at the cost of massive subsidies. It should start a public debate on the plan.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct.30, Page 30