SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea has ordered department stores, offices and hotels to turn down the heating, officials said Wednesday, amid fears of power blackouts because of a prolonged cold spell.
From next Monday, the temperature inside 441 buildings with large energy consumption will be limited to 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said.
The order, effective until February 18, covers department and discount stores, hotels, office buildings and schools and offenders face fines of up to three million won ($2,690).
The ministry had earlier ordered civil servants to keep office temperatures below 18 degrees Celsius, and encouraged them to wear thermal underwear to battle the cold.
"As oil prices are expected to remain high throughout the winter and electricity demand is setting new records, there is a common understanding that there needs to be tougher measures to reduce demand," the ministry said on its website.
Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Kyung-Hwan warned last week of possible blackouts after electricity demand soared to record highs this winter.
Sunday's temperature in Seoul fell to a 10-year low of minus 17.8 degrees Celsius. On Wednesday the low was minus 9 degrees Celsius, with the unusually severe cold spell forecast to continue for the rest of the month.
The Korea Times blamed what it called a misguided energy policy, which for years kept electricity prices lower than other fuel sources in a bid to tame inflation.