Mon, May 19, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Taipower’s figures need scrutiny

By Jay Fang 方儉

Taiwan’s nuclear power plants are overused and aging, leading to safety concerns. Last year the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group nuclear safety stress tests “strongly recommend[ed] further improvements in view of Taiwan’s vulnerability to natural hazards such as earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis and volcanoes,” and restraining bolts in two reactors in the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Wanli (萬里) District were found to have cracks in them: This is only the second time such a thing has happened anywhere in the world.

According to the Bureau of Energy’s 2012 report on energy sources, Taiwan has 48.4 gigawatts of total installed capacity of electricity. When producing at full capacity, the country is able to produce 424,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity every year, and Taiwan in that year only actually needed to generate 254,000 GWh of electricity, gross.

That means the country is only using 60 percent of its capacity, which is quite a stretch from the international standard of 80 percent from which the reasonable cost of energy is calculated.

The implication of this is that Taiwan has too many power plants, or it is using too little electricity, so the supply exceeds demand and there are too many unused power plants. Imagine a beef noodle restaurant that can sell 100 bowls of noodles a day, will break even at 80, but only actually sells 60 per day. Clearly, in this scenario, it will be running at a loss. Then, to turn things around, the management decides to raise prices, extend the premises, and pay the staff more, together with 4.6 months salary for their year-end bonus. I can tell you now, that store would not survive for long.

If a plant is operating at a lower than 70 percent utilization rate, it will certainly run into trouble. Taipower’s plants are running at a utilization rate of under 60 percent, and its other costs — such as paying for unused personnel, premises and materials — are even more startling.

Taiwan’s nuclear power plants contribute about 40,000 Gwh of electricity every year. If all three operating nuclear plants were shut down, the country would still be able to produce 380,000 GWh of electricity annually. Power from wind, hydroelectric and photovoltaic power plants, which cannot be stored, presently only accounts in total to an inconsequential 9,100 GWh of electricity per year. Since we only use 250,000 GWh of electricity per year, which is only 66 percent of the maximum supply capacity, we can still retire many inefficient coal-fired units.

Legislators should be doing their job properly, and checking over Taipower’s and the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ cost breakdowns, not just trusting them indiscriminately. It was these legislators that reviewed and passed the budgets for Taipower’s plants which are now sitting there not producing anything. Are these legislators going to continue being complicit with this exorbitance?

Jay Fang is chairman of the Green Consumers’ Foundation.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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