SEOUL, March 4 (Reuters) - An increase in the number of coal-fired power plants starting operations this year will likely drive record coal demand in South Korea, despite the country’s pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions at last year’s Paris climate summit.
The Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI), a government-run think tank, forecasts South Korean coal demand will rise 6.3 percent to more than 140 million tonnes in 2016, as 9 new plants with a combined capacity of 7.7 gigawatts come online.
Coal accounted for nearly 40 percent of South Korea’s electricity supply last year, according to data from Korea Power Exchange.
“It takes about 4 to 5 years to build new power plants and start operations. We just can’t cancel the operation of new plants that are already built and ready,” said an energy ministry official.
South Korea has scrapped plans to build four coal-fired power plants and aims to boost its nuclear reactor fleet by two more units in 2028 and 2029 as it looks to increase the share of nuclear and gas for power generation and cut reliance on coal.
Although Asia’s fourth-largest economy still plans to build 19 new coal-fired power plants by 2022.
Seoul imported nearly 10 million tonnes of coal in January, up 5 percent from a year earlier, customs data shows. Of that, imports of steaming coal used for power generation rose nearly 6 percent year-on-year, reaching 7.7 million tonnes. Imports are mainly from Australia, Indonesia and Russia.
Hailed as the first truly global climate deal, an agreement reached last December in Paris committed both rich and poor nations to reining in rising emissions blamed for warming the planet. (Reporting by Rebecca Jang; Editing by Joseph Radford)