SOUTH KOREA is the world's 12th-largest economy but has few energy resources of its own and relies heavily on imported coal - a cheap but dirty fuel - for around 40 percent of its electricity.

Only around six percent came from renewables in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.

That leaves it a mountain to climb to achieve the goal President Moon-Jae-In declared last year of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

The challenge has been made more difficult by his insistence on phasing out nuclear power as well as coal, leaving the country dependent on renewables to square the circle.

South Korea is a late comer to the off-shore wind industry, trailing far behind leaders Britain, China and Germany. But its peninsular location gives it an extensive coastline and several South Korean companies have expertise in offshore construction and wind power.

And now, resource-poor South Korea wants to spend billions on wind power to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, but its plans are being delayed by fishermen who say the fight against climate change threatens their catches.

The centrepiece of the scheme is what the government says will be the world's biggest offshore wind power complex.

The eight-gigawatt farm off Sinan in the country's southwest will help the South become one of the world's top five offshore wind energy powerhouses by the end of the decade, it proclaimed in February when it signed a 48 trillion won [$43 billion] construction deal.

But the scheme faced fierce opposition from the local fishermen as soon as it was reported in 2017.

''Those who make a living at sea are basically opposed to the idea,'' said protest leader Jang Geun-bae. ''It will significantly reduce the area in the ocean where we can fish.''

But scientists say that the effects of construction noise and mud are temporary and working wind farms have no impact on fish populations.

Kim Bum-suk professor of wind power ocean and civil engineering at Jeju National University, said there was ''no scientific evidence'' for turbine noise damaging marine life.

''There is absolutely no impact during operation,'' he told AFP. ''In the mid to long term, it serves as an artificial fish plant and can attract a lot of underwater creatures.''

Authorities in Gochang have offered financial inducements to bring local residents onboard.

The complex will be expanded to 2.4 gigawatts by 2030, with as many as 800 turbines, and the  fishermen have been promised a share of the profits once it is completed., although details have yet to be finalised.

The Sinan government also passed rules in 2018 giving residents 30 percent ownership of the local renewable energy projects.

''We are aware of the importance of renewable energy,'' Lee in Gochang told AFP.

''But enough dialogue and negotiations with local fishermen who make a living from the ocean is the only way for win-win.'' [AFP]


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