The Korean government’s plan to create a large a renewable energy production complex in Saemangeum, a vast tract of reclaimed land on the west coast, has met with stiff opposition.
On Oct. 30, President Moon Jae-in unveiled his vision for the renewable energy complex during a ceremony held in the southwestern coast city of Gunsan.
The vision calls for attracting about 10 trillion won (US$8.77 billion) from the private sector to set up solar and wind power plants capable of producing as much power as four nuclear power reactors before Moon's term ends in 2022.
"Renewable energy is healthy energy that protects the safety of the people, and it is also a new growth industry of the future," Moon said during the ceremony, calling for a sharp expansion in renewable energy production
He noted that renewable energy accounted for about 25 percent of the total power production among the member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
"Compared with this, we lag embarrassingly far behind," he said. "The proportion of renewable energy was only 8 percent last year and about half of it was waste power production."
Reminding that the Korean government’s goal is to increase the share of renewable energy in total power production to 20 percent by 2030, Moon said the solar and wind power plants to be established in Saemangeum will help the nation attain the goal and serve as a chance to dramatically increase the competitiveness of the country's renewable energy industry.
Yet Moon’s plan met with condemnation from the Democratic Peace Party, an opposition party with many of its members hailing from North Jeolla Province, which encompasses the Saemangeum region.
The political party claimed after a supreme council meeting in Gunsan that the Saemangeum area should be developed into an economic zone based on high-tech and agro-bio industries rather than a complex of solar and wind power plants.
They asserted that the development of the Saemangeum region should serve as a catalyst for balanced development of national territory and provide growth momentum to the Korean economy.
Chung Dong-young, a leader of the party, criticized President Moon for changing his initial plan to develop Saemangeum as the hub of the “Yellow Sea Economic Zone.”
“Last year, Moon promised to accelerate the development of Saemangeum as the center of a new economic zone on the west coast,” Chung said. “But he lets us down by coming up with a new development plan for Saemangeum.”
"The development plan for Saemangeum has been changed without public discussion," Chung pointed out. "I am opposed to the government's policy to turn it into a mecca for solar power generation."
He said covering Saemangeum with solar panels will hamper an efficient use of the reclaimed land, which has been created for the past 30 years, and ultimately will not contribute to the development of North Jeolla Province.
"The government's sudden decision to create a mecca of renewable energy in Saemangeum means a shift in policy, which means that it has given up the development of the region," he said.
However, the government North Jeolla Province expects the formation of a large-scale renewable energy complex to accelerate the development of Saemangeum, which has been slow up to now.
"The plan to build a new renewable energy complex does not mean that the government has given up its scheme to create the Yellow Sea Economic Zone. Rather it is an extension of the scheme," the provincial government said.
"We will establish Saemangeum as the world's best renewable energy cluster and take the lead in the renewable energy industry," Song Ha-jin, governor of North Jeolla Province, said during the vision ceremony.
He hoped that private investment of 10 trillion won will signal a full-scale development of the Saemangeum area, which has been stagnant for decades.
Yet skeptics say that it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to attract 10 trillion won investment from the private sector.