In January, the Knowledge Economy Ministry laid out a blueprint for the country's long-term power supply plans, which includes building LNG power plants by 2017 to generate an additional 5.06 million kilowatts of electricity, and completing coal-fired power plants by 2020 to generate an additional 10.74 million kilowatts.
The move comes as the country has faced possible power shortages in recent years as a result of frequent shutdowns of nuclear power plants due to aging or substandard parts. People are wary of constructing more nuclear plants amid safety concerns sparked by Japan's nuclear crisis that followed its massive earthquake in 2011.
The blueprint will be finalized soon after reviewing diverse opinions from relevant business circles, the knowledge economy ministry said.
Building more plants reliant on fossil fuels, however, has ignited controversy over whether the plan can be pursued in line with the government's earlier commitment to cut emissions by 30 percent from its business-as-usual (BAU) level by 2020. It has vowed to do so since 2009.
According to the data analyzed by the environment ministry, South Korea is expected to emit 268 million carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent tons or tCO2e in 2020 if the new power plants are built, which is some 10 percent more than the forecast made by the government in 2011.
"The rise in the expected amount of emissions means that the government will miss its voluntary commitment, which could negatively impact the country's credibility in the international community," an environment ministry official said. He declined to be identified.
"The government also set a goal of reducing emissions from power generation by 26.7 percent, but it would be impractical if the new plan for the power supply is implemented," he added.
"The plan cannot be justifiable, as it is based on exaggerated demand," said a civic group activist.
But the Knowledge Economy Ministry pointed to "the unrealistic, ambitious goal" of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the first place.
"The failure to draw up the long-term power supply plan in a realistic way will do harm to the people," a ministry official said. "It is not easy to achieve the emission goal within several years, as it was set based upon the minimized demand and idealistic circumstances of managing the demand."
Last October, the ministry said it will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 17.2 million tCO2e in 2013, doubling the amount of emissions cuts from the previous year as part of effort to speed up the movement toward its ultimate goal of a 30 percent reduction.
The figure represents a 3 percent reduction from the BAU level of 570.6 million tCO2e, it said, adding the country saw a 1.42 percent or 9.2 million tCO2e reduction in 2012.