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Upending the Korean wave of coal

By Denise M. Fontanilla

I recently joined a three-day climate leadership camp in South Korea. I was proud to be part of the Filipino delegation and meet budding and veteran climate leaders alike from Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and our host country.

It was easy to break the ice among ourselves as all of our countries have for years been swept by the Hallyu, or Korean Wave, of TV shows, music, and other aspects of pop culture. But after a few sessions, I eventually learned about another Korean Wave, this time of dirty money invested in coal plants in the Philippines as well as several other countries across the world.

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Photo by: Ngô Quốc Hiền

East Asia in fact is home to the three biggest public financers of coal worldwide. Japan, China, and Korea jointly bankrolled US$42 billion worth of coal plants and mines overseas from 2007 to 2014, including in the Philippines.

The 206-megawatt coal plant in Naga, Cebu is partly funded by the Export-Import Bank of Korea, the world’s fifth biggest public coal financer. It is jointly operated by a subsidiary of the state-run Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO), the world’s top public electric utility. KEPCO also has plans to build coal plants in Naga, Bataan, Surigao del Sur, Cadiz and Negros Occidental.

Despite South Korea’s substantial solar and wind capacities, not to mention its pledge to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement, the country still aims to put up 20 new coal plants within its borders by 2022 – a plan opposed by Korean citizens.

But renewable energy is on the rise in Korea, as it is here and elsewhere. The South Korean government announced last July that it will invest $36 billion in clean energy industries by 2020. KEPCO itself has RE projects in other countries, and has in fact just entered the US energy market by buying a solar farm.

Other Korean firms are also banking on clean energy in the Philippines. The government-owned Korea Water Resources Corporation, in partnership with San Miguel, is set to begin this month the rehabilitation of Angat Dam and its 218-MW hydroelectric power plant.

Odin Energy is also set to begin installing its wind tower this year in Catbalogan City, Samar, where it will be the centerpiece of their Sky City complex. The tower, which is estimated to cost $2.4 million, is said to generate up to 200 MW of wind power which can address 90% of the city’s energy needs.

Photo by: Ngô Quốc Hiền

Photo by: Ngô Quốc Hiền

Back in 2011, Youil Renewable Energy Corporation invested in a 30-MW solar farm in the town of E.B. Magalona in Negros Occidental, the country’s renewable energy capital. The firm also backed a 10-MW solar plant in Ubay town, Bohol.

The global wave of renewables will eventually overpower that of coal and other fossil fuels. In the meantime, count on clean energy pioneers to keep on working to turn the tide even sooner.

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