Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Commitment to renewable energy

By Gavin Lee 李佳達

The big anti-nuclear protests that took place in Taipei and elsewhere on April 30 concluded peacefully, although the mood was a little somber.

Two Japanese who had reportedly been evacuated from their homes near the disaster-struck Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant came all the way to Taipei to take part in the protest. When police learned that they planned to speak at the gathering, a warning was issued that such an act could result in them being banned from Taiwan for life, because it would violate the terms of their tourist visas.

Unfazed by the threat, the two went ahead with their speech and said something that moved everyone who was listening: “While this demonstration is going on, it turns out that the people who are really afraid is your government.”

From the public’s point of view, the matter is quite simple, because no matter what the arguments for and against nuclear power, in the end there are only two options: Either we go ahead with it, or we don’t. There is no gray area and no room for compromise.

The Statute For Renewable Energy Development (再生能源發展條例) was promulgated on July 8, 2009, but it was not until Aug. 16 last year that the state-owned Taiwan Power Co changed its procedure for purchasing energy from renewable sources so that it could start to legally handle applications for suppliers to connect to the power grid.

However, media reports have said that the application process is so complicated that not a single application has been completed in 16 months. Moreover, building and land laws and regulations also impose restrictions, namely if the area in question is more than 660m2, the owner is required to first apply for a land-use redesignation, which is a complicated affair.

Single-owners of low-rise properties and buildings with corrugated roofs, which are widespread in the south, are not eligible for subsidies because of building permit problems.

After Typhoon Morakot caused widespread damage in central and southern Taiwan in August 2009, a solar energy promotion program was established to help victims in Pingtung County recover from the disaster. Much to their surprise, however, residents were told that the government had decided subsidies would not be disbursed from the day the contract was signed as originally indicated, but on the day construction is completed.

Article 6 of the statute sets an impressive-sounding target of 6.5GW to 10GW of renewable energy generation capacity under government subsidy, but last year, only 8MW of generating capacity joined the power grid and went into operation. At this rate it would take 100 years for the target to be reached.

In an attempt to counter the strong swing of public opinion against nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, the government has been saying that if Taiwan gave up on nuclear power, the price of electricity would quadruple. It is even trying to scare people with the suggestion that a quarter to a third of all businesses could go bankrupt.

The government says renewable energy is too expensive and that renewable energy generators have already been built everywhere they could be built. This claim has already been rebutted in letters to the media from leading solar energy companies.

For solar energy to take the place of nuclear power in Taiwan is not only possible, but could be done straight away. Take the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, which is still under construction, for example — when one takes into account the land occupied and the cost of construction, as well as future operating costs and external costs, solar energy is not more expensive and would not take up more space. Moreover, it does not involve future operating costs, carries no risk of nuclear accidents and all the equipment needed could be made in Taiwan within one year.

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