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South Korea looks to turn away from coal, nuclear power to renewables, gas

The environment will play a pivotal role in shaping South Korea's energy policy as the administration of new president Moon Jae-in looks to prioritize green energy in response to public concerns over air pollution and nuclear safety, Reuters reported June 4.

Coal and nuclear reactors dominate energy production in Asia's fourth-largest economy, with both sectors enjoying tax benefits to ensure stable electric supply and affordable prices, the report said. The government wants to increase gas-fired generation to 27% of the energy mix by 2030 and the use of renewables to 20% from current levels of 18% and 5% respectively, noted one of Moon's energy policy advisers.

Coal's contribution would dip to 21.8% from about 40%, while nuclear would go to 21.6% from 30%, based on power demand growth of 2.2 percent, the report said.

"Currently taxes are imposed on gas for power generation, and we plan to correct the skewed tax system by seeking to levy environmental taxes on coal and nuclear," said Paik Ungyu, an energy engineering professor at Hanyang University who advises Moon on energy policy.

A short-term option to boost gas-fired operating rates is to reduce or remove tariffs on gas imports, the report said.

Meanwhile, long-term energy economics seems to favor renewables and LNG thanks to technology advancements and the ready gas supply from Australia and the U.S., the report said.

Moon recently ordered a suspension at 10 old coal-fired power plants and outlined plans for their permanent closure. He also pledged during his campaign to reassess existing plans to build nine coal power plants and eight nuclear reactors due to safety concerns, Reuters reported.