Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-hsiang (施顏祥) said yesterday the ministry will present a new energy policy within one to two months after being grilled by legislators who questioned the government’s efforts to wean the country off fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Shih pledged to come up with a new policy after briefing legislators on Taiwan’s alternative energy policy and energy-saving efforts during a legislative Economics Committee meeting.
The country plans to increase renewable energy sources from 6 percent of total electricity generating capacity to 16 percent, or 10,858 megawatts, by 2030, Shih said, with a quarter of it coming from offshore wind turbines.
He also expects the installed capacity of solar energy to increase to 2,500 megawatts by 2030 — from 8.5 megawatts today — to provide another quarter of the country’s renewable energy.
However, Shih did not offer a clear position on nuclear power, which accounts for 21 percent of total power production at present.
Public demand for renewable energy has been on the rise in the wake of a nuclear crisis that gripped Japan after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March.
More than 15,000 people marched in Taipei on Saturday to oppose nuclear power, worried that Taiwan, which is as vulnerable to earthquakes as Japan, could also face the threat of a nuclear disaster.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lee Chun-yi (李俊毅) suggested increasing liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity to replace nuclear power, but Shih was not enthusiastic about the idea.
Shih said it would take six to eight years and at least NT$150 billion (US$5.25 billion) to replace one of the country’s six nuclear reactors with natural gas turbines.
Replacing the capacity of all six reactors with natural gas turbines would cost more than NT$1 trillion and “we haven’t even talked about where we will purchase the LNG from,” Shih said.
“It’s been a dilemma for us. If we replace nuclear power with other types of power, such as LNG, that will drive our carbon emissions up,” he said.
Lee countered that the public would rather face the threat of high emissions than the threat of a nuclear disaster, especially after what happened in Japan, which he said is why the DPP has proposed a “nuclear-free homeland.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said that judging from public opinion, Taiwan will not likely be able to keep all four of its nuclear power plants — three of which are active and one which had been under construction since 1997.
He suggested that one possible scenario would be to retire the three operating nuclear power plants, whose reactors started operating between 1978 and 1985, and keep the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市).
KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) said yesterday he was one of a few lawmakers who could no longer support the further development of nuclear power because of heavy pressure from anti-nuclear constituencies.
Lawmakers also accused the government of not doing enough to promote green buildings, energy conservation and efficiency or to restructure the country’s industrial base and phase out high energy-consuming industries.
However, Shih said that electricity prices are a major factor influencing the government’s energy policy and that the country’s extremely low power prices would become a thing of the past as renewable energy capacity grows.