|A floating photovoltaic near Boryeong Dam in South Chungcheong Province was built in 2016 and has a 2 megawatts capacity. Courtesy of Korea Water Resources Corporation|
Country's centralized energy policies shackle Dangjin and other local authorities from switching to clean energy
By Ko Dong-hwan
GONGJU/DANGJIN ― On the morning of July 4, Dangjin Energy Center Chief Lee In-soo was at a community center in the Daehoji village in Dangjin, explaining how and why the agricultural community of 2,850 could and should switch to clean energy.
The head of the city's team promoting clean energy explained why switching from coal to renewable energy resources like liquefied natural gas (LNG), sunlight and wind was necessary; that coal ― a major cause of air pollutions in Korea ― was a finite resource; and that moving to clean energy was a global trend.
He also explained Korea's policy was to increase the use of renewable energy and explained what the village leaders could do to make Dangjin eco-friendly.
The South Chungcheong provincial city introduced the energy center ― the nation's first by a local government ― on June 1, to become the country's leading city in the transition. One fifth of the country's coal power station units are in the city, while half is concentrated in South Chungcheong alone.
But many city residents did not know what the center does. Lee's job, for now, is to contact the city's sub-regions and ask them to gather as many residents in one place as possible so he can visit and explain about the center and the clean-energy campaign.
While Lee was at Daehoji, a female officer from the center was at Jeongmi village in the city performing the same task. Lee told The Korea Times about 60 people gathered in both villages.
|At the district office of Daehoji in Dangjin, South Chungcheong Province, Lee In-soo, center-rear, teaches village residents why they should build more renewable energy facilities and how to conserve electricity. Courtesy of Dangjin Energy Center|
"I suggested that they place more solar panels in paddies and become energy producers because there are already many photovoltaics in Dangjin," said Lee, who also heads the Dangjin Energy Conversion Policy Forum, a civic group established in January 2019 to promote eco-friendly energy transition.
Lee made appointments to visit other villages to visit and promote the campaign. He spreads the city's vision of "citizen-driven energy transition."
The campaign's most difficult task, according to Lee, has been dispelling wrong information about renewable energy that people had learned from incorrect or fake news reports.
"They believed photovoltaic units emit radioactivity, cause heavy metal contamination, disturb people with reflected light, and can be destroyed by heavy wind," he said. "I explained that this is fake news."
Lee said he hoped Dangjin would lead other local governments to move toward renewable energy.
The campaign comes amid Korea's centralized energy policies that have prevented local governments from pursuing their own. Even local governments with competent infrastructure, money and public sentiment supporting the energy transition have been held back.
Meanwhile, the city stepped forward as a crusader for local governments in September 2018, proclaiming itself as an "energy transition city." It introduced its own energy basis plan, energy budget management regulations and the energy center.
|Dangjin Energy Center opened in Seongmun Culture and Sport Facility in Dangjin, South Chungcheong Province, June 1. Eleventh from left is Dangjin Mayor Kim Hong-jang, and the center head Lee In-soo is at far right. Courtesy of Dangjin Energy Center|
Dangjin generates the most electricity of any city ― its energy self-sufficiency rate is 440 percent ― using power generated from liquefied natural gas, biomass, coal and combined materials. But the city is desperate to move to clean energy.
"The city residents wanted this, we demanded the city government to support us, and they did," Lee said. The city mayor Kim Hong-jang told a forum in June 2018 clean energy could be achieved by introducing energy governance, energy funds and energy consultants for citizens.
The provincial government in December 2018 selected Dangjin from among 15 local jurisdictions because the city had widely spread renewable energy-powered facilities, zero-carbon buildings and high-efficiency energy materials.
With its slogan "Energetic Dangjin," the city's energy vision emphasizes that citizens engage in the campaign.
"We will encourage our citizens to form a cooperative working towards energy transition," Lee said. "The cooperative can be financially supported by business subsidies from photovoltaic providers and other renewable energy facilitators.
"If a floating photovoltaic generates 10 million won for the city per year, 10 percent can be given to residents around the lake to share the benefits. The money can subsidize people and areas with poor electricity access."
|Civic activists from 120 environmental groups in Dangjin, South Chungcheong Province, hold a press conference at the city office on January 9, 2019, to object to the central government's move to extend the longevity of Dangjin Power Plant's coal-fired units 1 to 4. Courtesy of Korea Federation for Environmental Movements|
But energy policies controlled by the central government's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is blocking Dangjin and other Korean local governments from moving to clean energy.
Under the country's top-down governance system, where the central government gives orders to local authorities, the latter can only express an objection. In 2017, when the ministry released the eighth biannual "basic plan for long-term power supply and demand" (accounting for the next 25 years) and the third "energy basis plan" in June 2019, local governments could only follow them, like it or not.
Lee said the central government is needed to introduce policies and let the local authorities execute the policies. This would allow local authorities to establish their own energy plans, manufacture and supply electricity using renewable energies that were most feasible, improve their local energy economies and attract more citizens to engage in the move to clean energy.
Lee said state-owned electricity supplier Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPC) was "monopolizing the country's electricity market," making it impossible for local governments to use renewable energies only.
"The central government must change the current governance so Dangjin can come up with its own renewable energy plan apart from the KEPC," he said.
"A lake inside the city's Seongmun National Industrial Complex is feasible for floating photovoltaic output, while agro-photovoltaic and wind power are also feasible in paddies near the lake. They can supply power to factories inside the complex. We want the complex to be free from KEPC's power grid."
|Ten units at Dangjin Power Plant in South Chungcheong Province use coal to generate 6,040 megawatts. Courtesy of Dangjin City Office|
Yeo Hyoung-beom, a researcher from the spatial and environmental planning department of South Chungcheong's Chungnam Institute, said KEPC's market monopoly deprived citizens of choosing different power suppliers.
"There are different private power suppliers in certain advanced countries and if the suppliers notified users of an increase in electricity price due to high maintenance costs, users would understand," Yeo told The Korea Times.
"Here, because the government singularly determines the electricity price via KEPC, people condemn any increase as a tax increase."
Among five goals in the ministry's latest energy basis plan is one stating that the central government will "expand an energy system that is dispersed and participatory" to raise power supply by local governments to 30 percent by 2040 and engage local governments more in power production using renewable energies.
Yeo said that before the plan's release, a designated experts' panel had advised the ministry that energy policies should be "decentralized" but the ministry toned down the word to "dispersed and participatory."
"Renewable energy has been causing many conflicts in local communities and they must be mediated by locals, not the central government," Yeo said. "But the locals don't have the authority or official mediating organizations."
In 2017, South Chungcheong introduced an "energy transition vision," promising to boost hydrogen, wind power and photovoltaic power. Each provincial city will contribute 40 million won ($34,000) for a provincial fund to set up local energy centers to teach citizens about renewable energy and consult citizens interested or involved in related businesses. Seocheon, Gongju, Cheonan, Cheongyang and Hongseong signed up in 2018 and this year.
Yeo said that before the manifesto was introduced, local governments did not consider closing coal power plants because the governments had no authority under the central government and therefore only tried to reduce environmental damage by demanding restitution.
However, in 2016, Dangjin began demanding an end to coal power plants for environmental reasons in response to the central government's plan to build two more plants on top of the 10 already operating. It forced the Park Geun-hye administration to start decommissioning coal plants that had been operating for 30 years or more.
Song Yong-sik, a deputy official from the ministry's energy innovation policy division, said the ministry acknowledged that financial incentives had not solved conflicts between the government and people opposed to coal power plants and that local governments' roles had never been more critical.
"We have agreed with 17 metropolitan governments that, following the third energy basis plan's release, they submit to us their own energy basis plans for the next five years (until February 2020)," Song told The Korea Times. "The aim is to unify the central government's energy policies and those of the metro authorities as much as possible.
"But it has yet to be resolved how much responsibilities local governments will have once they are given energy policing authorities. Budgets and political sensitivity between metro and local governments also remain thorny issues."
|At Boryeong Power Plant in South Chungcheong Province on Jan. 24, 2018, the province's vice-governor of state affairs Yoon Won-cheol, center, demands that lawmakers from the National Assembly's Special Policy Committee on Fine Dust promptly pass bills so that anti-air pollution measures operating in the Seoul metropolitan area could be applied to the province. Courtesy of the South Chungcheong Provincial Government|
Dangjin and South Chuncheong's eco-friendly efforts are in line with a global trend and Seoul is far behind in this area, according to both experts. The solution is to use more renewable energy and burn less coal and other fossil fuels.
Lee warned that Korean major conglomerates like Samsung and LG would be shunned by other global companies moving to clean energy. These companies were behind RE100, a global corporate leadership initiative of companies intent on sourcing all electricity from renewable energy by 2050 at the latest.
As of July, the initiative involved 188 companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook, General Motors and BMW.
"Even if Korean firms want to be part of RE100, there aren't enough renewable energy facilities here," Lee said.
"The current energy policies are too consumer-friendly, centralized and depend too much on fossil fuels. The third energy basis plan aims for Korea ― which now uses 8 percent renewable energy ― to expand this to 35 percent by 2040.
"By that time, however, advanced countries' use of renewable energies will reach 60-70 percent. Northern European countries already have strong renewable energy sources, with Iceland already 100 percent renewable."
Korea has 59 coal power plant units. Thirty are in South Chungcheong's coastal regions, with 10 in Dangjin. In 2016, the central government ― following Dangjin's protest against coal ― ordered that coal power plants that had operated for 30 years or more be permanently shut down. New plants on which construction was 10 percent or less complete would be reconsidered.
|Coal particles inside a cabbage near Dangjin Power Plant in South Chungcheong Province. Environmental activists provided the photograph. Courtesy of Dangjin Federation of Environmental Movement|
Construction was halted at coal-based Dangjin Eco Power plant, and Seocheon power plant units No. 1 and 2 were closed in 2017. But, existing coal power plants and those under construction well beyond 10 percent remain in Dangjin, Taean and Boryeong. Total capacity is 18 gigawatts.
"In 2018, the province joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a global pact to use coal no longer, alongside 83 members of national and local governments and companies," Yeo said. "Advanced countries swore to escape coal by 2030 and advancing countries by 2050. The province, given until 2050, must now plan how to accomplish that goal."
South Chungcheong Governor Yang Seung-jo promised upon his inauguration in July 2018 that the province would stop using coal. The third energy basis plan also stated that use of coal would be "drastically reduced." Song said the central government shared the same goal.
"Renewable energies' price rates in Korea are getting cheaper because related technologies are improving and environmental dispatch has increased their values while making coal and nuclear powered electricity more expensive," Song said.
"By 2025, Korea will be among other countries that offer renewable energy-powered electricity at cheaper rates than fossil fuel electricity. We have been persuading the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which has been criticizing the central government's renewable energy policies."
Korea Power Exchange first employed environmental dispatch ― a pollution-conscious economical strategy of calculating environmental risks to the electricity generation price ― in June by revising its electricity market management regulations.
The ministry aims to settle the measure by the end of this year. It is expected to reduce the power generation rate gap between coal and LNG from 41.1 won to 8.7 won.