Tidal Power in South Korea

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We reported a cautious victory in early 2013, when these two proposed projects — Incheon Bay Tidal Power Plant and Ganghwa Tidal Power Plant — appeared to have lost their support from the national government.

  • In October 2012, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs (MLTM) rejected a request by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power to incorporate the Incheon Bay Tidal Power Plant into MLTM’s plans for reclamation.
  • Similarly, Ganghwa Tidal Power Company has voluntarily withdrawn its request for including the Ganghwa Tidal Power Plant in MLTM’s reclamation plan. The Ministry of Environment had already refused the project’s Environmental Impact Statement in 2011, and was planning to send an official comment to MLTM opposing the project.

South Korea elected a new president in December 2012, though, so we will have to wait and see how President-elect Park Geun-hye will differ from President Lee Myung-bak on energy policy and other environmental issues.

SAVE International and our Korean allies are optimistic, even though the status of these two projects is still ambiguous. Representatives for Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, for example, say only that the company has decided to “tentatively” put its Incheon Bay project on hold. But many sources in the Korean media, both conservative and progressive, report that both tidal power projects have foundered.

Imminent changes to South Korean law could deal the final blows to these two tidal power projects and proposals like them. The country’s Congress is preparing to pass a law that would exclude large-scale tidal power from the category of “renewable energy”, exactly the point that SAVE and many Korean citizens have been trying to make. We hope this new stance will encourage other countries to look more carefully before including large-scale tidal power in their own energy policies.

As we reported in early 2012:
Although the current administration in South Korea has created ambitious plans for “green growth”, some important parts of these plans do not match an objective definition of “green” or “sustainable”. A large component of South Korea’s new renewable-energy policy under the “green growth” model is power derived from tidal action, mostly from huge tidal power plants (TPPs) along the country’s western coast. These power plants, using the “tidal barrage” method to convert tidal movement to energy, would wall off the shallow seas. The rising tide would pass through openings in the walls, the water would be held inside the walls at high-tide levels while the tide recedes outside, and then the high water would flow through power-generating turbines on its way back out to sea.

SAVE International, along with our partners in South Korea and at the University of California – Berkeley, have been studying how these TPPs would affect the coastal ecosystem, including the tidal wetlands that Black-faced Spoonbills and other birds need in order to survive. Tidal power, which might seem to be an ideal source of non-polluting energy, is a much more complicated issue; what the South Korean government and its private partners have proposed would have disastrous effects on the nation’s environment.

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. recently applied for carbon-reduction credits for its proposed project, Incheon Tidal Power Station (also known as Incheon Bay Tidal Power Station or Incheon Bay Tidal Power Plant). The credits would come from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The project’s proponents admit that it would not economically feasible without these credits. Comments about the CDM application for Incheon Tidal Power Station were open to the public in November-December 2011. SAVE identified many glaring errors and omissions in the application, and we submitted comments addressing these issues.

Links on SAVE’s campaign about tidal power in South Korea:

Click here (link) to read the article “Tidal Power Makes a Surprising Comeback” by Peter Fairley, published in IEEE Spectrum (by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), June 19, 2013. This article includes a quote from SAVE’s Yekang Ko.

Click here (link) to read the IUCN Intertidal Report (“IUCN situation analysis on East and Southeast Asian intertidal habitats, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea)”) by John MacKinnon, Yvonne I. Verkuil and Nicholas Murray, published 2012. This report refers to the 2011 Environment article (linked below) by Yekang Ko, Derek Schubert, and Randolph Hester.

Click here (PDF) to read SAVE’s comments and supporting documentation against the CDM application for Incheon Tidal Power Station, December 11, 2011.

Click here (link) to read the special report “South Korea’s Plans for Tidal Power: When a ‘Green’ Solution Creates More Problems” by Yekang Ko and Derek K. Schubert, published by the Nautilus Institute, November 29, 2011.

Click here (link) to read the article “‘Green’ New Deal Projects Threaten Korea’s Rivers and Tidal Flats” by Yekang Ko and Derek K. Schubert, published in World Rivers Review (by International Rivers), Vol. 26, No. 3, September 2011.

Click here (link) to read the article “A Conflict of Greens: Green Growth vs. Habitat Preservation – The Case of Incheon, South Korea” by Yekang Ko, Derek K. Schubert, and Randolph T. Hester, published in the magazine Environment, May-June 2011.

Click here (PDF) to read SAVE International’s statement, endorsing the campaign by the Ganghwa Citizens’ Committee to oppose two mega-scale tidal power plants near Incheon, South Korea.