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South Korea to shut up to 15 coal power plants for 3 months to check pollution

Seoul — South Korea will shut up to 15 coal-fired power plants out of the total 60 for three months starting December 1 to help reduce air pollution, that could give a potential boost to LNG demand, the energy ministry said Thursday.

"A total of 8 to 15 coal-fired power plants will be shut from December 1 to February 29 so as to help reduce fine dust emissions," the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement.

"It is the first time that South Korea suspends operation of coal-fired power plants in the winter season when the country's power demand grows," it said.

"The scope of the shutdown -- from 8 to 15 -- will be determined on the basis electricity demand over the peak winter season," a ministry official said.

The ministry 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 country's remaining coal power plants will operate at no more than 80% capacity during those three months period, the ministry statement said.

"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 electricity demand is expected to peak at around 88,600 MW in the fourth week of January, which can further increase to 91,800 MW if the country suffers an extreme cold snap, according to the ministry statement.

The country's electricity supply is expected to meet demand with a power surplus of more than 11,350 MW from December through February, it said.

The government's decision to shut the coal-fired power plants reflected the proposal by the state-run National Council on Climate and Air Quality to shut 9 to 14 coal-fired power plants over December-February.

"The government has decided to reflect the Council's proposal in a flexible manner by lowering the minimum number and raising the maximum number each by one so as to meet any possible changes in power demand and weather conditions," a ministry official said.

In October, the Council led by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon submitted its final report on fine dust emissions to President Moon Jae-in.

The proposal also calls for the country to shut 22 to 27 coal-fired power plants for 31 days in March when electricity demand weakens.

"The government has not decided on how many coal-fired power plants will be shut in March. We will make the decision in late February on the basis of the latest forecasts on spring weather conditions," the official said.

"But the government will try to reflect the Council's proposal," the official said.

South Korea has experienced the highest level of fine dust over the winter and spring seasons.

The measure to reduce coal-fired power plants is in line with President Moon's drive to reduce coal consumption so as to reduce greenhouse gas and fine dust emissions.

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

South Korea is the world's third largest importer of LNG, after Japan and China, with an annual consumption of 30-40 million mt.

-- Charles Lee, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Debiprasad Nayak, debiprasad.nayak@spglobal.com