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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 1)

2018/11/01 07:00

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Policy flip-flop

: Saemangeum renewable energy plan draws backlash

On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in announced a plan to establish one of the world's largest renewable energy production complexes in Saemangeum, a reclaimed land project in North Jeolla Province. The plan is undoubtedly aimed at implementing his campaign promise to phase out nuclear power plants.

But Moon has immediately drawn fire over the project from the opposition Party for Democracy and Peace, whose political power is based in North and South Jeolla provinces. Residents in the region are also against the renewable energy plan. They oppose it because they fear the reclaimed land might end up only as a power generation complex.

In fact, President Moon promised to develop Saemangeum into a pan-Yellow Sea economic zone in his May 2017 presidential election campaign. This ambitious pledge was to turn the reclaimed land into a center for economic cooperation with China, one of Korea's largest trading partners, and create a Northeast Asian economic hub.

Regrettably, however, Moon has yet to take any concrete action to put his commitment into practice. More exactly, he has no time to do so because he has been so preoccupied with inter-Korean detente. Nevertheless, the President has actively pressed ahead with the nuclear energy phase-out policy, despite objections from conservative opposition parties and their supporters.

Now Moon seems to be trying to speed up the policy by creating a large-scale renewable energy production base in Saemangeum. If this project is completed without delay, it would give more momentum for the Moon administration to shut down more aged nuclear reactors down the road.

Under the just-announced plan, the government will build a solar farm by 2022 to generate 3 gigawatts of electricity as well as a wind power complex to produce 1 gigawatt. The government seeks to increase the share of renewable energy over the total energy supply drastically from the current 8 percent.

However, the project lacks public consensus, especially among the residents of the region. The plan has come up suddenly without any prior consultation. This means the presidential office is unilaterally pushing for the project. So critics are taking issue with procedural matters and slamming Moon and his policymakers for not reflecting diverse opinions about the renewable energy plan.

Worse, the Moon government has not conducted any feasibility studies or environmental impact assessments for the Saemangeum plan. We can hardly understand why the administration, which values public consensus, has skipped such a step before announcing the project.

The government has said it will inject 570 billion won (US$500 million) of the state budget into the project and attract 10 trillion won in private investment to complete the renewable energy complex. Yet it has no concrete action plan on how to draw private capital.

Taken overall, the Moon administration certainly appears to have put the Saemangeum plan together too hastily. It should conduct a rigorous feasibility study and other preparatory work before it is too late. It is also required to draw a much bigger picture to translate the reclaimed land, which is 14 times larger than Yeouido in Seoul, into a regional economic hub.

(END)

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