Since 2018, South Chungcheong Province has emerged as a pioneer of the transition away from coal power in Asia. This is a serious endeavour, as the province is home to half of South Korea’s coal generation. At the heart of the province’s efforts is the aim of protecting the health of its 2 million residents.
South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, has about 60 coal-fired power plants, generating 40% of the country’s electricity. South Chungcheong province is home to half of the country’s coal fleet: 30 coal power stations with a total capacity of 18 gigawatts (GW). This includes the second and third largest coal fired plants in the world in Dangjin and Tae-an, each with a capacity of over 6 gigawatts (GW).
Burning coal has produced severe air pollution in South Korea, with record-high concentrations of dangerous fine dust particles observed in major cities during the coldest months. Air pollution poses a major risk to public health of contracting respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. South Chungcheong residents, suffering from the highest levels of atmospheric pollution in the country, strongly support the transition away from coal to more environmentally friendly energy sources.
The provincial government aims to reduce the use of coal power to reflect the growing public call for cleaner air. In 2017, as part of South Chungcheong’s ‘2050 Energy Vision Plan’, the province committed to using all the policy and regulatory measures under its authority to accelerate the closure of coal power plants. It announced that it will bring forward the closure of 14 coal power units by 2026, expand renewable electricity generation from 7.7% to 47.5% by 2050, reduce energy consumption, and dramatically cut air pollution. It also committed to a just transition for the workforce and affected communities.
The province does not have full regulatory powers towards the coal power plants located in its jurisdiction, as energy policy remains under the authority of the central government. Due to these constraints, South Chungcheong focuses on building alliances with other provinces and leading a push for greater action at national level. It has led a joint declaration on early phase-out of old coal power plants with four nearby provinces and has held workshops with National Assembly Members and Provincial Council Members, resulting in a national policy decision to not pursue the life extension of existing power plants. The province is also working closely to build consensus with ministries and related agencies, including the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy, National Council on Climate and Air Quality, and the operators of coal power plants.
The province’s efforts are bearing fruit. In November 2019, the Korean government decided that South Chungcheong’s oldest coal-fired power plants, Boryeong Units 1 and 2, which have been operating for more than 35 years, will be closed this year - two years earlier than the scheduled closure date. It is a significant victory of the Citizens’ Alliance for the Early Decommissioning of Old Coal Power Plants, established in July 2019. The closures will be accompanied by measures to minimize the impact on the local economy and stabilize employment, such as social responsibility practice agreements.
For more information about South Chungcheong’s phase-out of its oldest coal power plants, watch the video below.
Beyond South Korea, South Chungcheong plays a key leadership role in Asia - the continent that excavates and burns three quarters of total global consumption. In October 2018, Governor Seung-Jo Yang and UK Deputy Head of Mission Nik Mehta announced South Chungcheong province’s membership in the Powering Past Coal Alliance. The province promotes climate action in the region by hosting the Asia-Pacific Roundtable on Energy Transition & Coal Phase-out, and the International Conference on Coal Phase-out & Climate Action.
South Chungcheong is South Korea's fastest growing region, resulting in high growth in demand for power. The province aims for energy demand to be met reliably with renewable energy, and not by highly polluting power sources such as coal plants. As a case study for other Asian provinces, South Chungcheong can demonstrate that a transition away from coal which does not compromise its growing energy needs is indeed possible.