South Korea plans to shut down up to 15 coal-fired power plants this winter

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea will idle up to a quarter of its coal-fired power plants between December and February to help limit air pollution while its remaining plants are expected to supply sufficient power, the energy ministry said on Thursday.

The shutdown will be applied to 8 to 15 plants including two older 500 megawatt plants which have higher emission levels than others, a ministry official said.

The ministry said in a news release that the remaining coal power plants will operate at no more than 80% capacity from December to February.

A presidential committee in September recommended shutting down up to 14 coal plants between December and February and up to 27 in March, stepping up the country’s anti-pollution measures.

South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, has about 60 coal-fired power plants, generating 40% of the country’s electricity. But it aims to reduce its use of coal power over the long term to reflect growing public calls for cleaner air.

In early November, the government said it would close the country’s 6 older coal-fired power plants by 2021, a year earlier than planned.

Nuclear power makes up about 30% of South Korea’s electricity, followed by gas power at around 20%. Analysts expected the reduced coal power to give a slight boost to the country’s LNG demand.

South Korea suspended operations of some aging coal-fired power plants from March to June and capped such plants’ operations at 80% when an air pollution advisory is issued.

The country’s winter power demand is expected to peak at around 88,600 megawatts (MW) in the fourth week of January, and to increase to 91,800 MW if there is an extreme cold snap, the ministry said in its statement.

Electricity supply is expected to meet demand with a power surplus of more than 11,350 MW from December through February, the ministry said.

Reporting by Jane Chung; editing by Gerry Doyle and Jason Neely