Anyone who has any interest in energy policy knows that the government allows commercial developers to build offshore wind energy projects after going through the correct procedures, such as environmental impact assessments. Consequently, the government does not spend taxpayers’ money building wind turbines, despite some people thinking it does due to the influence of false information that the pro-nuclear camp has been spreading for years.
Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, is adept at using populism to manipulate his audience. At election campaign events, he has been substituting rates that people pay for wind-generated electricity for the cost of building wind turbines. Han uses “everyday language” to deliver this intentionally false message to make it easy for fans of Han and nuclear power to spread rumors like they were viruses.
There are three main issues to consider amid this false narrative:
First, the Internet armies of “Han fans” and “nuclear power fans” have widely disseminated images of a Taiwan Power Co wind turbine that broke down long ago. The aim of the meme is to give the mistaken impression that wind energy is impractical and a waste of money. When people who have gained this mistaken impression hear the falsehood that the government has spent NT$2 trillion (US$66.43 billion) on wind power projects, anger begins to rise.
People ask why Taiwan, which is typically struck by multiple typhoons each year, should waste money building things that break easily in strong wind.
However, one wind turbine breaking does not prove that wind power is impractical, just as one car broken down on a roadside does not show that cars in general are not effective.
Offshore wind turbine technology has made great leaps over the past couple of decades. The government now demands that turbines meet the International Electrotechnical Commission’s Typhoon Class standard for withstanding storms and earthquakes.
This means they must be designed to withstand wind speeds of up to 57 meters per second [205kph]. Offshore turbines in Taiwan have withstood four typhoons and it is only now they have proved their sturdiness that the government will allow more wind farms to be developed. The work can continue with more confidence that the infrastructure will be reliable.
Second, and most crucially, the government has spent no money building offshore wind power projects, it only pays for electricity.
Just as people only pay for telephone calls that they make, the government only pays when electricity is generated. If anything breaks down, be it temporarily or permanently, the government does not have to pay a cent. The responsibility for installation and operation is borne by the commercial operator.
When people see photographs of broken wind turbines, they might naturally think that “seeing is believing.”
However, the government does not spend any money building offshore wind turbines.
It takes time and effort to understand this, plus a bit of brain power to learn how the electricity purchasing and bidding systems work.
As the saying goes, “rumors stop with the wise.”
Third, pro-nuclear pundits and online celebrities lure people into the false impression that “the government has spent NT$2 trillion” building offshore wind turbines, while also fostering a vague impression that fraud is occurring. They take it further by spreading rumors about “huge sums of money flowing into foreign coffers.”
By repeating such rumors as if they were facts, in combination with anger arising from the mistaken impression about wind turbines breaking down, the lies grow legs and run.
The Han camp’s estimates of electricity purchase rates are far-fetched. They range from NT$2 trillion to NT$3 trillion or even NT$5 trillion. Perhaps Han and his advisers had a little too much to drink before they came up with these figures.
The Han camp then uses those ridiculously wrong figures and the number of domestic electricity consumers — who actually only account for 17.6 percent of Taiwan’s total electricity consumption — to conjure up the scary rumor that each person would have to bear an annual cost of NT$10,000, or even NT$30,000 or NT$50,000. These figures are juggled and maintained regardless of any attempt to set the record straight.
Did they think up the per-person costs over a game of mahjong? They are certainly not the results of precise research, so it is no wonder the numbers keep changing.
The Han camp’s aim in denigrating green energy is simply to make nuclear and coal-fired power generation more popular. It takes Han and nuclear energy enthusiasts less than 10 seconds to start a rumor, but President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) needs to talk for 10 minutes or write hundreds of words to set the record straight, while a lot of energy and resources go into communicating messages accurately between the government and society.
It is becoming clear what the result of next week’s presidential election will be. If the nuclear and coal brigade goes on exaggerating, rumor-mongering and muddying the discussion about energy policy, it will be a big obstacle on Taiwan’s path to energy transition.
Pan Han-shen is a standing director of the Association of Taiwan Tree-huggers.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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