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(News Focus) Gov't pushes to foster eco-friendly models, new energy industries

All Headlines 17:48 June 30, 2016

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- Over the last few years Somaegok-ri in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province, has experienced a self-transformation from a remote, nondescript village in the countryside to an eco-friendly development model that the government seeks to spread throughout the country and beyond.

The village, once host to facilities to dispose of sewage and livestock excretions, is now touted as the nation's first eco-friendly energy town equipped with facilities to generate biogas and electricity from natural and renewable energy sources, including solar power.

Its rapid transformation is being spearheaded by the Seoul government's initiative to find energy-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions to tackle climate change and bolster new energy industries.

The initiative has proceeded based largely on three models -- an eco-friendly energy town, energy self-sufficient island and a "zero-energy" building -- all of which are designed to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and foster sustainable growth.

At the heart of the initiative is the eco-friendly energy town project that has reshaped Somaegok-ri, some 102 kilometers east of Seoul.

"The representative new energy industry model is the eco-friendly energy town," Vice Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Woo Tae-hee told reporters. "We are currently expanding the model and have made visible (progress) in exporting this sort of model to countries like Poland and Ethiopia."

Woo added that the government would push for "drastic deregulation" to bolster investments in new energy industries and that those industries should constantly seek to advance into global markets.

The eco-friendly energy town in Hongcheon was established in December last year and has been hailed as a success story by President Park Geun-hye, who has pushed hard for clean energy as a means to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

During her visit to the town on Thursday, Park said the residents' "creative ideas and future-oriented perspective" have made the town's transformation possible.

"(The government) is trying to make the town a world-renowned environmentally friendly model," she said, noting that the model will create a host of advantages in terms of increasing resident's incomes and creating new jobs.

"I hope that we will accumulate our expertise through more research (on the eco-friendly town project), and sharpen our competitiveness so as to advance into foreign (markets)," she added.

The town features a set of plants to generate electricity, biogas and manure with livestock excretions, food waste, sewage, solar energy and hydropower. Through these plants, the town generates nearly 200 million won (US$173,460) in profits each year.

"All of the residents here, who once opposed the construction of those plants, are now telling me that we made the right decision (to join the project)," Ji Jin-su, head of the village, said. "Now people are filled with hope that our village can prosper."

After the isolated village became eco-friendly, the number of households there increased. The figure, which stood at only 57 in 2014, has risen to 70.

Capitalizing on its new eco-friendly platforms, the village seeks to turn itself into a tourist destination as well. To this end, it has been developing educational and tourism facilities such as a hot spring resort, which is due to open later this year.

Along with the town of Hongcheon, the government has designated 18 other villages -- including Asan in South Chungcheong Province, Gyeongju in North Gyeongsang Province and Yangsan in South Gyeongsang Province -- for a series of eco-friendly projects.

Developing energy self-sufficient islands is another project that the Park government has been pushing forward as part of efforts to bolster new energy industries.

The project aims to turn diesel-powered facilities or equipment on small islands into ones that are powered by renewable energy platforms and employ energy storage systems (ESS), which make use of large-scale batteries to efficiently distribute power by saving energy during the night and using it during the day when demand for power is higher.

Juk Island in South Chungchong Province has joined the project through which it has saved some 80 million won in fuel costs annually, government officials said.

Seoul has also been striving to spread the model of a "zero-energy" building that minimizes energy consumption by maximizing a building's insulating capabilities and the use of renewable sources of energy such as geothermal and solar.

The government's eco-friendly drive is in tune with its international commitment to fighting climate change. Seoul has set its 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent from business-as-usual, or BAU, levels.


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