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[Editorial] Shameful record

Ill-considered energy policy results in more coal consumption

South Korea’s coal consumption increased last year, when most advanced countries were curtailing the use of fossil fuels. It adds to the shame caused by the country’s already messed-up energy policy.

A report from the London-based energy company BP showed that South Korea’s coal consumption reached 88.2 million tons of oil equivalent in 2018, up 2.4 percent from a year ago.

The BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 ranked the country as the world’s fifth-largest coal consumer, following China, India, the United States and Japan. Think about the area and population of the top four countries and one can sense the gravity of the situation facing South Korea.

The BP report showed that South Korea’s per capita coal consumption stood at 1.73 TOE, coming only next to Australia with 1.77 TOE and higher than 1.35 TOE of China, which is often denigrated as the world’s worst polluter. South Korea was the only member state of the wealthy club of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development whose coal consumption rose.

This is undeniable proof that this country is going against the global efforts to curb emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and climate change. The recent rise in air pollution, including fine dust, is another concern due to the government’s failure to reduce the use of coal.

As expected, coal-powered electricity generation is to blame. Last year’s coal-powered electricity increased 11 percent to 238,967 gigawatt-hours from 2016, which accounted for 42 percent of total power generated.

In a sense, the continuing use of coal is inevitable because the country needs to meet the demand for electricity in the face of the government’s ill-advised policy to phase out nuclear energy.

The Moon Jae-in government’s energy policy prioritizes a drastic reduction in the dependence on atomic power. The policy calls for abolishing plans for new reactors and decommissioning of old reactors.

The problem is that the anti-nuclear power policy, mostly based on concerns about safety issues, is being implemented without effective alternative and complementary measures.

Currently, coal-fired power accounts for 43 percent of South Korea’s power generation, followed by nuclear power with 27 percent. The proportion of renewable energy sources stands at only 7.6 percent.

The government has an ambitious plan to increase the portion of eco-friendly renewable sources such as solar and wind power to 20 percent by 2030 and 30 to 35 percent in 2040. It aims to cut the portion of nuclear power to 18 percent by 2030.

But few expect that the government will be able to attain the goal, which is more geared to justify its policy to wean the nation off nuclear energy than provide a realistic, effective roadmap for mid- and long-term energy plans.

The escalating deficit at the nation’s top state-run utility is one piece of evidence that the government’s energy policy is going in the wrong direction.

Korea Electric Power Corp., whose profit turned downward since the Moon government began its drive against nuclear power, the cheapest source of electricity, suffered an operating loss of 928.5 billion won in the first half of this year, the largest deficit in seven years.

Besides the decline of the production of cheap nuclear power, officials blame the partial switch of coal-powered plants to those which use liquefied natural gas. This switch has primarily to do with curbing fine dust, but the increased use of more expensive LNG resulted in a bigger deficit for KEPCO.

Replacing the energy generated by coal with nuclear power, not LNG, could have killed two birds with one stone -- cost and cleanness.

There is no energy source that perfectly meets all the requirements like efficiency and cost, cleanliness, safety and stability. Which is why a country and government should have an optimal mix of various energy sources according to their respective situations.

The fact that the country has become a top user of coal and that development of renewable energy sources lacks substantial progress should reawaken the government to redraw the nation’s energy road map, which is overly focused on phasing out nuclear power. It is a shame that this country is still reputed to be a mass consumer of fossil fuels.