Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Commitment to renewable energy

By Gavin Lee 李佳達

The government’s response has been to restrict subsidies to businesses and the public, saying it cannot allow solar energy firms make unreasonably high profits. It also wants to create the false impression that the successes these firms have achieved are essentially the result of government support. At the same time, the government says that solar energy will keep getting cheaper, so we should wait for manufacturers to develop the technology first and then Taiwan can start using it when costs have dropped.

The market is simpler than democracy; the key question is how to survive. The government’s contrived reasoning is easily disproved by market realities. Last year, total output by Taiwan’s solar power manufacturers was NT$200 billion (US$6.98 billion), accounting for 12.7 percent of global production and ranking second worldwide in solar energy equipment manufacturing.

In contrast, when it comes to the installation of solar energy generation, Taiwan accounts for a mere 0.1 percent of the world total. The nation’s big solar power plants are all focused on overseas markets; as such, none of these companies depends on Taiwanese government subsidies.

This stands in stark contrast to the situation in many other countries. For example, the Chinese government supports the industry by providing loans and guarantees for building solar power plants and by subsidizing pilot schemes around the country. China uses these means to foster manufacturing technology and help businesses gain experience, putting them in a better position to bid for contracts around the world. Another example is the South Korean government, which has applied for carbon-trading credits on a case-by-case basis through the Clean Development Mechanism of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This way, it can build solar power plants and cultivate South Korean solar energy unit production at the same time.

The response of the Taiwanese government reflects the general sorry state of affairs faced by most local businesses, whether or not they are working in key sectors in which the nation has particular advantages. More often than not, the government waits for the world market to fatten companies up and then reaps the benefits without having contributed anything.

Three days after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear leak, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered a three-month shutdown of seven of the country’s older reactors so that they could undergo thorough safety inspections. However, she failed to listen to what the German people wanted and the price she paid was that her Christian Democratic Union lost control of the big southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where it had been in government for 58 years.

Baden-Wuerttemberg is now the first German state ever to be governed by the Greens, as senior coalition partner with the Social Democratic Party. Reacting to her party’s win, Greens Co-chairperson Claudia Roth said: “This is a day that has strongly changed the political landscape in Germany.”

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