Friday, May 20, 2011

News Roundup: Energy Policy Shift


As Japan's nuclear crisis continues to make international headlines, its impact on Taiwan's political dialogue and energy policy has already been substantial. Nuclear energy, widely unpopular even before the Fukushima meltdown, figures to a major campaign issue in the 2012 Taiwanese presidential election. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ying-wen has recently promoted a "non-nuclear homeland" (非核家園) policy which would eliminate all nuclear power in Taiwan by 2025. The plan would allow Taiwan's three existing nuclear power facilities to expire at their scheduled dates while finishing construction on the fourth plant without allowing it to become operational.

Amid public protests and increased pressure from legislators, the Ma administration has scrambled to offer its own alternative path on an energy policy that lowers Taiwan's dependence on nuclear energy in favor of renewable energy sources. President Ma has rejected plans to completely eliminate Taiwan's reliance on nuclear energy. However, the government has already announced that it will not seek to extend the lifespan of Taiwan's first nuclear power plant beyond its scheduled expiration date in 2019. Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) Minister Shih Yen-shiang has pledged to more than triple Taiwan's share of renewable energy in power generation from its current 6% to 19-20% by 2030 and release a new comprehensive energy policy by July.

Off-shore wind will play a larger role in Taiwan's future energy mix

Under the MOEA's current 2030 forecast, nearly 50% of Taiwan's renewable energy will come from solar and offshore wind power. Experts recently called for increased deployment of small-scale wind power, especially in remote areas. The MOEA has also issued a five year plan to reduce water, electricity and oil consumption, saving an estimated 100,000+ metric tons of CO2.

But the sudden calls for scaling back or eliminating Taiwan's nuclear energy sources have placed the government in a bind. Viable plans to replace the 20% of Taiwan's electricity that its six nuclear reactors generate (CO2 free no less) are scarce. In response to a suggestion to replace Taiwan's three nuclear power plants with Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), Shih estimated the cost would exceed NT $1 trillion (US $35 billion). Shifting from nuclear to LNG would also fail to address Taiwan's dependence on fossil fuel imports and increase CO2 emissions.


Taiwan continues to suffer through one of its worst droughts in recent years. The Water Resources Agency (WRA) announced in early May that water rationing had commenced in Southern Taiwan. The water supply in Central Taiwan remains tight, but heavy rains in mid-May have temporarily precluded the need for second-phase water rationing.

The drought has renewed attention on Taiwan's inadequate water policy. In a recent op-ed piece, Taiwan Today emphasizes that Taiwan faces a crisis of water management, not water shortage. An estimated 3/4 of Taiwan's annual rainfall (2nd highest in the world) evaporates or is lost during delivery. In addition, Taiwan lags far behind world leaders, such as Singapore, in water reclamation, treatment, and recycling. Lee Hong-yuan, Chairman of the Executive Yuan's Public Construction Commission, echoed the importance of water management and drew attention to the proper pricing of water and greater interdepartmental collaboration.


Taiwan's environmental movement scored a major victory with the announced reversal of the Kuokuang Petrochemical plant in Changhua. On April 22, President Ma officially withdrew his support for the NT $600 billion (US $20 billion) project, followed by an application withdrawal from Kuokuang's corporate board five days later. Although it was estimated to generate thousands of jobs and over NT $300 billion (US $10 billion) in annual revenue, the petrochemical plant was to be developed on a large plot of wetlands and drew opposition due to its potential negative impact on water consumption, air pollution, and biodiversity conservation. The reversal is not an outright rejection of the plant as other sites in Taiwan may yet be suitable. However, the high-profile failure of the application has spurred speculation that Taiwan's petrochemical industry will increasingly look to develop its assets across the strait and in other receptive Southeast Asian nations.

Taiwan's environmental activists achieve victory against Kuokuang

A recent study of two constructed wetlands near Northern Taiwan's Dahan River provided evidence to the success of Taiwan's artificial wetland development. The study conducted by Taiwan's National Science Council (NSC) demonstrated that Taiwan's man-made wetland ecosystems have attracted significant biodiversity, improved wastewater treatment, and reduced CO2 emissions. Perhaps most encouragingly, the artificial wetland ecosystems became very similar to their natural counterparts in only a short period of time.


The government's push for the development of electric vehicles (EV) has moved into the public transit sector. The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) showcased two electric bus models that it hopes will eventually be integrated into Taiwan's mass transit framework. In the private sector, Taiwanese automaker Luxgen drew praise for its premium EV sedan at the Shanghai auto show. Additionally, Chinese automaker Lifan has reached an agreement to sell 620 EVs to the Taiwanese market, the first appearance of Chinese-made EVs in Taiwan. Lifan hopes to boost sales up to 5,000 vehicles by next year.


The government's resolve to carry through its low carbon homeland policy has been called into question by The China Post, but President Ma recently reaffirmed the government's pledge to develop six low-carbon cities by 2014. In May, the EPA hosted a forum inviting energy specialists from Denmark to share their low-carbon expertise in Taipei. In addition to addressing topics such as energy supply, efficiency, and sustainability, the forum focused on Denmark's success in raising electricity prices without substantial political fallout.


Taiwan's Council of Agriculture (COA) has announced measures to enhance Taiwan's food security. Taiwan currently produces 32% of its own food, a lower percentage than other East Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea. The government has set a goal of 40% self-sufficiency by 2020 and may increase strategic growth of food supplies overseas in a partnership with private corporations and Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies.

In May, the EPA pushed forth an initiative to attach CO2 labels to food industry products. Over 100,000 food industry members were invited to take part in the program which has been touted as both a CO2 reduction and cost-saving measure. The initiative will complement the EPA's drive to cutback waste created by Taiwan's take-out food culture. In order to reduce Taiwan's disposable garbage, such as the 1.5 billion plastic cups consumed last year, the EPA has encouraged beverage and fast food providers to give larger portions to customers using their own containers.

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