South Korea plans to shut 10 ageing coal-fired power plants by 2025, as Asia's fourth-largest economy seeks to cut its reliance on dirtier fuels after a pledge at last year's Paris climate summit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Coal accounts for 40 percent of South Korea's electricity supplies, but in a tilt towards cleaner fuels Seoul recently said it was targeting $37 billion in renewable energy investment by 2020.
The shutting of the coal plants could also lower fine dust levels by 24 percent by 2030 from 2015 levels, the energy ministry said.
"In response to growing concerns over fine dusts, we will lower the share of coal power by shutting down old coal-fired power plants and restricting to add new coal-fired power plants in the future," the ministry said in a statement.
In Paris, South Korea agreed to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2030 and a ministry official said reduced coal use is expected to curtail emissions by about 6 percent. South Korea is still committed to building 20 new coal-fired plants by 2022, but no additional plants would be considered in a new power plan next year, the ministry said.
Energy minister Joo Hyung-hwan said the percentage of total installed power capacity from coal was expected to edge down to 26.2 percent by 2029 from 28 percent in 2015. Another ministry official said the amount of electricity produced by coal would also fall but no estimate was available yet.
State-run utilities will spend 10 trillion won ($8.68 billion) on closures and upgrading existing plants by 2030 to lower emissions.
Of the 10 plants due to be retired, two will use biomass rather than coal from 2017, the statement said. "The shutdown of 10 old coal power plants will not affect the country's power supply as we can replace them with alternative energy like biomass and renewables gradually," said Yoon Jong-Keun, president of Korea Southern Power Co Ltd (KOSPO), which is owned by Korea Electric Power Corp.
Out of the remaining 43 coal power plants, eight that are more than 20-years old will be retrofitted to curtail emissions, while the rest will get expanded emission-reduction facilities.
Currently, South Korea generates 30 percent of electricity from nuclear and 25 percent from liquefied natural gas.
A shift away from coal could help reduce South Korean imports in the long run, though nearer term coal demand is expected to rise as new plants open.
(Reporting By Jane Chung; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Ed Davies)
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