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Coal plants to be shut in winter

15 will be off for all or part of the cold season to reduce the fine dust
Nov 29,2019
Coal-fired plants are to be shut this winter to reduce fine dust, a first for the government.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Thursday released its December-to-February power supply plan, and the plan includes suspending the operations of eight to 15 coal-fired plants.

The rest will be run at maximum 80 percent capacity.

It said two outdated power plants will be completely halted, while one to five coal-fired power plants will be shut for repairs. Operations will be suspended at five to eight coal-fired plants on Sundays.

According to government forecasts, these measures will reduce fine dust emissions by 2,352 tons, which is 44 percent less than in the same period a year earlier.

Fine dust pollution reaches its highest levels during the winter months.

Although the government has cut back on the use of coal-fired plants during the spring temporarily, this will be the first time it has curtailed operations of the polluting plants during the winter.

The country’s 60 coal-powered plants are estimated to produce 12 percent of the fine dust pollution on the peninsula.

“We will reduce coal-powered plants as much as possible under the condition of maintaining a stable power supply,” said Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon during a government meeting.

The government estimates that the maximum power demand this winter will be between 88.6 million and 91.8 million kilowatts, which is similar to last winter.

The government said it has the capacity to supply a maximum of 138.5 million kilowatts after the addition of three new liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plants.

It added that it will maintain 7.63 million kilowatts of backup reserves in the event of an unexpected need for capacity.

Extra power could be required if the winter is colder than usual or if problems occur in generation equipment currently scheduled for use.

Since the Moon Jae-in administration started to phase out nuclear power plants, coal-fired plants have become the country’s largest source of energy.

As of the first half of this year, coal-fired plants generated 37.7 percent of the country’s energy, and nuclear power generated 28.8 percent. LNG, which is a more expensive fuel, accounted for 25.3 percent of the total, and renewables generated 6.7 percent of Korea’s energy needs.

The goal is to take renewables to 20 percent by 2030.

Concerns are on the rise that state-owned Korea Electric Power could be dangerously burdened by the costs associated with the introduction of additional LNG and renewable power production, as these sources are more expensive than nuclear and coal, and that power bills will have to rise significantly.

When the use of coal plants was cut back in the first quarter of the year, the utility reported an operating loss of 629.9 billion won ($534 million), compared with a 502.3 billion won operating loss in the first quarter of 2018.

In October, the National Council on Climate Change and Air Quality, which is led by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, proposed that the government suspend or temporarily reduce operations of coal-powered power plants this winter and spring next year.

It estimated that the increased use of LNG will likely result in additional costs of between 600 to 800 billion won.

A family of four will need to pay an additional 1,200 won per month on their energy bill, or roughly 14,400 won a year, it estimated.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]