Following the recent election of reform President Moon Jae-in, the Korean Power Plant Industry Union declared its support for the new government’s measures to close older coal-fired power stations in order to control pollution from particulates. “Our members are the workers in charge of running coal-fired power plants. We are also Republic of Korea citizens. Although our hearts are heavy, we welcome the shutdown of worn out coal power plants because we are clear about what kind of country we want to leave for our descendants.” (Full text of the statement, below)
16 May 2017, KCTU/KPTU-Korean Power Plant Industry Union
Only six days after taking office, President Moon Jae-in announced emergency measures to reduce the amount of fine dust in the air including a temporary shutdown of coal-fired thermoelectric power plants that are over thirty-years-old for the month of June. President Moon also announced plans to regularly stop operation of these power plants during the four months from March to June, when the fine dust concentration is the highest, beginning next year. And, he promised to completely close down ten of these plants in the shortest time possible and at the latest before the end of his five-year term.
Unlike past administrations, which announced plans for future power plant closures for the sake of garnering positive public opinion and then delayed implementation, President Moon’s willingness to do as much as possible in the immediate demonstrates the will and sincerity of the new administration. In addition, a Blue House representative’s comments that, “employment for (power plant workers) should not become more difficult as a result of introduction of new sources of energy” demonstrates how deeply and broadly the administration is thinking about this issue.
Some media outlets have expressed concerned that the additional cost of roughly 60 billion KRW estimated to be needed to replace outdated coal-fired power plants with LNG power generation, which is relatively more expensive, will lead to higher electricity prices or losses for the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). For the last several years KEPCO and its 6 power generation subsidiaries have enjoyed an economic boom due to low international oil and coal prices with their collective net profit last year reaching 11.8 trillion KRW. This trend is expected to continue in the near future.
In particular, there are fears that, in addition to the shutdown of old coal-fired power plants, should President Moon carry out his promises to cancel plans for new nuclear power plants and stop the construction of new coal-fired plants with processing rates of less than 10% it will put upward pressure on electricity prices. A fundamental solution needs to be found to alleviate such fears. Part of this solution can be found in the integration of the public power companies or entire electricity industry, which would enabling a savings of several trillion KRW by cutting back overlapping maintenance costs, reducing the costs that arise from competition and enabling across-the-board purchasing of fuel and materials. If the government reduces the benefits given to private power generation companies, whose profits are currently guaranteed at a higher rate than public power companies, and restricts the expansion of new private power plants, KEPCO could achieve even higher gains that it does at present. Funds raised in this manner should be aggressively invested in the expansion of renewable capacity and technological development.
Our members are the workers in charge of running coal-fired power plants. We are also ROK citizens. Although our hearts are heavy, we welcome the shutdown of worn out coal power plants because we are clear about what kind of country we want to leave for our descendants. We recognise, however, that the road ahead is a long one. In particular, resistance from those who gain from the current misdirected organisation of the energy industry and collaborators with the past administration will be strong. We hope that the new administration will not bend from the path it has started on and continued to move forward to make a country that is worth living in. If it does, we will walk on the same path, playing the role of whistleblower and policy advisor.