Thu, Apr 19, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Golden opportunity for sustainability

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

The recent rise in the price of petroleum-based fuels has both indirectly and directly led to fluctuations in retail prices, and the public is feeling the effects.

Following hot on the heels of price hikes for gasoline and diesel products, the government last week announced that the price of electricity would go up before President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration for a second term on May 20. The government says the price of electricity must be increased to make it correspond with the cost of production. The electricity price increase will have a heavier impact on the public than the fuel price rises.

Some experts say that Taiwan’s fuel and electricity prices have been intentionally kept at the same level for a long time. They say that by suppressing price hikes, the government has been using taxpayers’ money to subsidize refiners and power consumers, and that this is socially unjust.

Petroleum-based fuel products and electricity are difficult sources of energy to obtain. In Taiwan, these resources are completely controlled by state-owned enterprises, so the government has a duty to manage them in a reasonable way, and to be prepared to respond to any energy crisis that might occur.

The double impact of fuel and electricity price rises may affect the way people use these resources. Hopefully, the price rises will prompt the development of sustainable energy policies. Soon after the price hikes were announced, people started talking about adjusting policy to save energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A possible effect of this new policy drive could be lower consumption of fuel and electricity and major changes in people’s behavior. For example, the fuel price rise has already caused a sharp increase in the number of people using the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transport System.

If the government takes advantage of this opportunity to step up publicity for behavior that results in less energy consumption, we might see a bigger shift toward energy saving.

Many scientists in the field of energy resources think that saving energy should take priority over all alternative forms of energy generation. According to this premise, the government should introduce measures and inducements to encourage energy-saving behavior. The key point is that fuel and electricity price rises can have an impact on the overall deployment of sustainable energy policies.

If the government would clarify its policies, it would have a positive and lasting effect and promote the establishment and development of sustainable energy. The fuel and electricity price rises provide an excellent opportunity for the government to promote energy saving, carbon emissions reduction and the cultivation of renewable energy sources. This could also be a good time for the government and public to think about nuclear energy policy. If the public feel that fuel and electricity price rises are unbearable, perhaps they will once more come to see nuclear power as an acceptable way of generating electricity.

The Statute for Renewable Energy Development (再生能源發展條例) came into effect on July 8, 2009, but sustainable energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tide and biomass, still account for a mere 3.5 percent of total electricity generation. That is far less than the 79 percent generated by fossil fuel combustion and 17.5 percent by nuclear power. This suggests that there is plenty of space for development of sustainable energy.

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