Ambitious offshore wind farm projects in Korea are facing strong headwinds from local residents and the fishery industry citing the possible impact of the projects on the environment and fisheries.
In a deadlock, both the energy and fishery industries are calling for the government to fill in regulatory loopholes in the process of obtaining consent from local residents.
Korea has been deemed a promising market for offshore wind farms by energy companies both home and abroad amid the accelerating transition to renewable energy worldwide.
As of September, a total of 69 offshore wind farm projects with a combined capacity of 20.7 gigawatts have gotten licenses from the Electricity Regulatory Commission under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, according to Electric Power Journal’s Sept. 27 report based on the commission’s monthly minutes. That accounts for about 29 percent of the government’s renewable energy target by 2030.
Overseas energy companies such as Norway’s Equinor and Canada’s Northland Power have been actively making inroads into the local offshore wind market over the past few years.
However, how many of the approved projects would be able to proceed as planned is uncertain, with administrative loopholes and hiccups involving local residents remaining a major obstacle.
The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives (Suhyup), a fishing industry advocacy group, on Oct. 3 warned of a protest in front of the Yongsan presidential office on Oct. 12 to oppose offshore wind plant construction. About 500 fishermen are expected to gather that day, according to the federation.
Suhyup is urging the government to re-evaluate all of the projects currently planned from scratch and come up with a site selection standard in consideration of fishery activity protection zones.
“The most important factor in offshore wind plant projects is the site,” said a spokesperson for Suhyup. “The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is granting licenses for offshore wind plant projects in the fishery activity protection zones, and we are asking the ministry to avoid sites that may affect the fishery zones.”
Suhyup argues that 94.1 percent of the offshore wind farm projects licensed by the Energy Ministry by August are to take place in fishery activity protection zones.
The spokesperson added that “the opinion of those who are directly related to the issue should be considered, yet [the project operators] in some cases are involving people who are not in the fishing business when getting the residents’ consent.”
A number of offshore wind plant projects are facing strong opposition from the local residents and fishermen.
Equinor South Korea plans to invest 17 trillion won ($12 billion) together with Chujin, a special purpose company, in building 3-gigawatt offshore wind power plants off the Chujado Islands, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Jeju Island. It is one of the world’s largest offshore wind farm projects.
Some local residents are up in arms against the project, citing the potential environmental damage and disturbance in fishing activities. Who – the energy industry or the Jeju local government – has the authority to grant a project license is also an issue, as the local government on Jeju Island has the authority to grant permission for wind power projects in the region.
A 9-gigawatt floating wind farm project off the coast of the southeast city of Ulsan was met with strong protests from the local fishing industry as well as the new local administration.
Ulsan Mayor Kim Doo-kyum, who came into office in June, said in September that “I believe that the floating offshore wind power plant project should be carried out in about 15 years from now,” citing high costs and the immaturity of the technology. Though the wind power project is authorized by the Energy Ministry, not the local government, Kim’s unfavorable stance toward the project could likely mean there will be a lack of administrative support from the Ulsan City Government.
Another 8.2-gigawatt project in Sinan County, with some 48 trillion won in investments, is struggling to reach an agreement with the local residents over the compensation issue.
One problem is that there is no standardized process for getting the residents’ agreements for the project.
“There is no unified standard for getting consent from the local residents whatsoever,” said a wind power energy industry insider who requested anonymity.
“In many offshore wind farm projects, the local governments demand consent from the residents before granting the final license for construction,” he said. “The percentage level of approval that is required by the authority differs depending on the local government, and that is why we need a standard.”
The energy committee of the European Chamber of Commerce in Korea (ECCK) also demanded a clear guideline for the process.
“Since there is no unified guideline for gathering local residents’ consent, the offshore wind plant projects are exposed to increasing uncertainties and delays due to repetitive complaints,” said Moon Go-young, the ECCK energy committee chairperson and country chair at the Korean office of RWE, a German energy company, during a press conference on Sept. 28.
“Therefore the energy committee included a request for a unified process for the licensing and clear guidelines for getting consent from local residents” in the ECCK’s White Paper 2022, said Moon.
Experts argue that the government needs to take a more active role in resolving conflicts and boosting the wind power sector.
“The environmental impact of offshore wind power plants has not yet been sufficiently investigated,” said Choung Joon-mo, a professor of naval architecture and ocean engineering at Inha University.
“Korea needs to enhance the renewable energy share in the energy mix at a rapid pace in a short period of time, but if we leave everything to the private sector, companies are bound to be focused only on profitability,” said Choung. “Therefore, I believe that government-level support in research and investigation is needed.”
Choung cited the example of Taiwan’s TSMC, saying that the chip company got active support from the Taiwanese government in procuring renewable energy.
“Samsung Electronics, for example, cannot build a wind power plant to power itself,” said Choung. “That is why the government should create an overall condition to facilitate sourcing renewable energy.”
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