North Korea seeks Chinese investment for solar power plant — Radio Free Asia

North Korea is seeking Chinese investment to build a solar power plant that would add more capacity to its depleted power grid, government sources in the isolated country told RFA.

North Korea is chronically short of electricity, and blackouts are common, even for the privileged in the nation’s capital, Pyongyang.

Statistics Korea, a South Korean government agency, estimated the North’s power generation capacity in 2018 to be 24.9 billion kilowatts, one twenty-third that of South Korea. On a per capita basis, in 2019, only 940 kilowatt hours were available to the average North Korean, or about 8.6% of the power output available to a typical South Korean, according to the Korea Energy Economics Institute.

Because Pyongyang takes precedence over other cities and cities take precedence over provinces, most North Koreans likely have even less electricity available.

North Korea’s aging power plants, lack of energy resources, and inefficient transmission and distribution systems are major contributors to chronic power shortages.

To build a new solar power plant, Pyongyang needs investment from China, which it hopes to secure by trading the rights to marine farms off the country’s west coast, an official in the capital told the Korea Service of RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons. .

“If Chinese investors provide US$2.5 billion for the construction of the factory, near the West Sea, they will be repaid by a lease on a fish farm in the West Sea for about 10 years,” he said, using the Korean name for the western sea. of the Korean Peninsula, internationally known as the Yellow Sea.

The source said details of the refund would be discussed once the agreement is reached between the two countries.

Cross-border trade between North Korea and China was halted in 2022, following a two-year suspension from January 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. If the border reopens, North Korea would, under the plan, hand over the fish farms to China, which would have rights to fish, eels and shellfish raised on the farms for the next 10 years, it said. The source.

He said the proposal came from the second economic committee, which coordinates the military defense industry. The proposal documents were faxed from Pyongyang to a Chinese intermediary with connections to an investor.

The documents show North Korea is willing to lease 12,253 acres of fish farms in exchange for $2.5 billion for the plant, which would generate 2.5 million kilowatts of electricity per day.

“The fish farms that would be leased to China are in the West Sea in an area that stretches from Sonchon, Kwaksan and Yomju counties in North Pyongan Province to Chungsan County in South China Province. Pyongan. The solar power plant would be built near [the city of] Nampo,” the source said.

The proposal is part of an overall plan by the ruling Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee to attract foreign investment, a North Pyongan official told RFA.

Every trade agency under the Cabinet is working to secure wheat imports from Russia and food imports from China, according to the second source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“The biggest of these projects is to hand over fish farms in the West Sea to China and attract investment in the construction of solar power plants,” he said.

Before the pandemic, North Korea was already planning to build solar power plants in the western coastal region, according to the second source. Previously, the plan was to transfer rare earth mining rights to Chinese developers.

RFA reported in October 2019 that authorities had handed over mining rights to a mine in Cholsan County north of Pyongan to a Chinese developer in return for investment in the same planned solar power plant.

Sanctions intended to prevent North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs, however, prohibit Pyongyang from exporting rare earths. Investors in China were therefore not keen on investing in North Korean rare earth projects, so the project never got off the ground.

“So we are trying to attract Chinese investment by divesting the West Sea Farms which are not subject to sanctions,” the second source said.

North Korea enacted the “Renewable Energy Law” in 2013, which would launch Pyongyang’s pursuit of new energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal power.

Since then, North Korea has continued to import solar power core parts from China and has installed solar power in commercial facilities, transportation hubs and state-owned enterprises to encourage their own production of solar energy. electricity.

However, North Korea’s solar power expansion plan has hit a snag with the coronavirus pandemic and border closure, sources said.

RFA tried to contact the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs but received no response.

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.