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South Korea to idle up to 16 coal-fired power plants for coming winter

South Korea will close up to 16 coal-fired power plants for three months from December, out of its 53 coal power plants in total, to help reduce air pollution, which can boost LNG demand and imports, the energy ministry said on Nov. 25.

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"A total of 8 to 16 coal-fired power plants will be offline from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 as part of efforts to reduce fine dust emissions in the winter period," the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement.

All the other coal power plants will operate at no higher than 80% capacity for the three months.

"The scope of the shutdown — from 8 to 16 –- will be determined on the basis of electricity demand over the peak winter season, and LNG prices and supply conditions," a ministry official said.

This year's winter coal power plant restriction plan, up to 30.2% of the total, is somewhat strengthened, compared with a 9-16 plant shutdown last year and 8-15 in 2019, which were up to 26.7% out of 60 coal-fired power plants.

The country permanently closed seven aged coal-fired power plants for the past two years as part of President Moon Jae-in's push to reduce the country's heavy reliance on coal in power generation and address worsening air pollution.

The MOTIE refused to provide a list of the coal power plants to be shut, but the ministry official said aged, more polluting plants will be the first to be taken offline.

"The government will try to idle coal power plants, as many as possible, on the condition of stable electricity supply," the official said.

South Korea's winter peak electricity demand is projected at 90.3 GW in the coming winter season, which can further increase to 93.5 GW if the country suffers a cold snap, up from 87.6 GW to 90.4 GW last year.

The country's electricity supply is expected to meet demand with a power surplus of more than 10 GW from December through February despite the shutdown of the coal-fired power plants as the country can supply over 110.2 GW, up from 103.3 GW last year.

"The coal power plant closure for the next three months is expected to reduce the country's coal-related fine dust emissions by 52.5%, or 2,838 mt, compared with without such restrictions," the ministry statement said.

The ministry official said the country will be ready to raise the operating ratio of natural gas-fired power plants to avoid electricity supply disruptions, which can boost the country's LNG demand and imports.

If necessary, the country will supply an additional 9.7-13.5 GW mainly from LNG-based plants, according to the official.

The country's LNG import is expected to climb as the government has lowered import tariffs on LNG to zero from 2%-3%, currently, for six months from Nov. 12 to April 30.

The government levies a 3% tariff on LNG imported during the peak winter season from October to March, and 2% during the rest of the year.