[Editorial] Data must be unbiased

By Korea Herald

Suspicions raised about unpublicized power cutback orders to industrial sites last month

  • Published : Aug 8, 2017 - 17:42
  • Updated : Aug 8, 2017 - 17:42
The government imposed an emergency power cutback on some companies twice last month, even as it was publicizing that the electricity supply was more than enough.

According to a report that Korea Power Exchange submitted to Rep. Kim Moo-sung of the minor opposition Bareun Party, about 450 companies were instructed to reduce their electricity usage for three hours on July 12, and some 2,500 companies for four hours on July 21.

The government adopted the emergency cutback system in 2014, in which it asks companies to consume less electricity during peak times, usually in summer or winter. In return, such businesses receive financial compensation.

Emergency cutbacks are invoked when the power reserve runs out or is expected to fall extremely low.

They were used three times last year, only once in summer -- on Aug. 22.

Once companies receive cutback instructions, they usually stop the operation of factories.

Though they are compensated, the reduction in productivity is not inconsiderable.

Then this year, emergency cutbacks were enforced twice in July.

On July 21, the power reserve was kept at 12.3 percent thanks to the emergency cutback, whose required amount of electricity usage reduction was about twice as much as the one last summer.

Without the cutback, the rate would have been 10 percent. If electricity reserves fall below that level, the power authorities begin to apply emergency measures.

Korea Power Exchange said the latest corporate power cutbacks were caused by an operational glitch in a generator on July 12 and by an anticipated surge in power demand trigged by high temperatures on July 21.

Emergency cutbacks were invoked according to regulations, but their unpublicized invocations were liable to invite suspicions amid sharp conflicts between proponents and opponents of President Moon Jae-in’s pledge to wean the nation off of nuclear power.

All the more so because Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Paik Un-gyu has vowed that there would be no problems in power supply after nuclear power plants are phased out, because renewable power will be boosted.

Invocation of emergency cutbacks, which can set back industrial production, is inconsistent with the administration’s message that the power supply is more than enough even in a heat wave.

Given the possibility of electricity reserve dropping below 10 percent, it is hard to be assured of a stable power supply.

The government and the ruling party have also said that the cost of electricity production should be recalculated in consideration of environmental and social costs.

It is generally understood that nuclear power is the cheapest in terms of unit cost, while renewable energy is among the most expensive.

So the government is trying to recalculate its costs.

To attain its goal for renewable power generation, solar panels need to be installed on an area the size of 61 percent of Seoul, with wind power stations on an area 1.6 times as large as Jeju Island.

It seems certain that as many elements as possible will be included in recalculating nuclear power costs, while the opposite will be the case for cost estimation of renewables.

Last month, a working group of private experts, which advises the government and the ruling party, revised down its previous outlook for electricity demand in 2030, causing criticism that the demand estimate seems to have been downsized to fit in line with the policy.

A proper policy is based on unbiased data. If the base data for a policy are biased, it will damage the lives of people that it is intended to serve.

Invocation of emergency cutbacks and compensation with taxpayers’ money have only increased the burden on the public in order to keep up appearances of a stable power supply.

Leaving an important energy decision to a team of non-experts and moving to give up on world-leading nuclear industry technology are irresponsible and hasty moves.

If a policy will only burden the nation if it is implemented, the government must reconsider it.