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Work to begin on world's biggest solar power plant

South Korea seeks cleaner energy

SEOUL -- South Korea plans to break ground for the world's biggest solar power plant today as it tries to diversify its power sources and use cleaner energy.

The $170 million plant, along with the world's largest tidal power plant already under construction off the country's west coast, is part of an aggressive effort to seek new and renewable energy sources amid rising global concern about reducing the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The nation is attempting to increase its use of renewable energy from its current 2.28 percent to 10 percent by 2020. The solar plant, being built in Shinan, near the southwestern tip of South Korea, is scheduled to be completed by late 2008. It will feature 109,000 rectangular solar modules that will cover a seaside plot the size of 80 football fields, engineers said yesterday. The modules tilt on a sun-tracking system to generate up to 20 megawatts of electricity.

"The plant will produce more than 27,000 megawatt-hours of environmentally friendly electricity a year," said Kim Ji Hun, president of the Korean subsidiary of SunTechnics, the German solar power company that will build the plant. "This will be enough to supply 6,000 to 7,000 households and saves 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, or the amount of carbon dioxide 23,000 cars emit a year."

Electricity from a solar power plant costs seven times as much as electricity generated by nuclear or fossil-fuel power plants in South Korea, said Lee Gil Jae, president of Dongyang Engineering & Construction, which will operate the plant.

With its emission of greenhouse gases increasing faster than in most developed countries, South Korea agreed to subsidize the solar plant as part of a program to encourage clean energy. In 2006, the government spent $444 million on that program.

China recently pledged to make renewable energy account for 15 percent of the country's total energy supply by 2020 and to spend $200 billion on that effort.

SunTechnics is one of the alternative-energy companies that hope to capitalize on the cleanup of Asia's polluted skies. "We are further expanding our market positions in the most important growth regions in Asia," said Stefan Müller, Asia-Pacific head of SunTechnics.

Like China, South Korea is aggressively exploring offshore gas reserves. The country spent $66.7 billion on importing energy in 2005, or 22.1 percent of its total import bill, making its economy vulnerable to high oil prices.

South Korea aims to reduce its dependency on oil to 35 percent of its energy needs by 2030, a drop from 44 percent in 2005.

Last week, the city of Inch on, west of Seoul, said it would build the world's biggest tidal energy plant by 2014. The plan calls for connecting four islands with a 7.8-kilometer, or 4.8-mile, barrier and installing dozens of turbines that will harness the energy of powerful tides.

The $1.9 billion plant will have a capacity of 812 megawatts, exceeding that of the 240-megawatt La Rance project in France, currently the world's largest operating tidal plant. It will also surpass the 254-megawatt Sihwa tidal energy project under construction on the west coast of South Korea. It is slated to be ready in 2009.

Increased concerns about global warming and air pollution have added urgency to efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top global body studying climate change, urged nations to make major moves away from current primary energy sources.