Questions linger over Shenao plant

By Chiau Wen-yan 邱文彥  / 

Mon, Nov 20, 2006 - Page 8

To service the Shenao Power Plant, Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) intends to spend NT$58 billion to build a 1,700m long port for unloading coal in Wanghaihsiang Bay (望海巷海灣), which is located on the northeast coast of Taiwan between Keelung and Rueifang.

Although an environmental assessment has been conducted on Taipower's plan, there are still many questions surrounding the case.

The plan also came under fierce attack at a public meeting held in the area not long ago.

The northeast coast is extremely sensitive in terms of its scenery and its ecological resources and Taipower's NT$50 billion (US$1.5 billion) proposal for the Shenao port provides little in the way of administrative procedures to prevent damage to the area's environment.

According to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法), development plans should give appropriate consideration to local opinion.

That is why I was shocked when Taipower's extremely sketchy environmental impact report received first-stage approval virtually without any input from locally elected representatives or community leaders.

The approval raises questions about flaws in the administrative decision-making process, legal compliance, whether environmental assessment experts even went to the proposed site to investigate and about the lack of consultation with local experts, academics and civic groups.

Furthermore, since the proposed location for the port is not in an urban area, Ministry of the Interior regulations require that permission for coastal development must obtained, raising questions about whether Taipower applied for its permit in accordance with the law.

With the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, states must pay careful attention to greenhouse gas emissions and concentrate on producing energy in an environmentally responsible manner.

The northeastern part of Taiwan is already home to the Shenao and Waimushan power plants and the second and fourth nuclear power stations.

The Shenao facility is bucking the global trend of focusing on renewable and replaceable energy sources by continuing to expand its coal-fired power plant, which burns approximately 2 million tonnes of coal annually and produces a great amount of pollution.

With one port for every 4km to 6km of coastline, Taiwan already has too many ports. Within 3km to 5km of Shenao, there are three other fishing ports -- Changtanlee (長潭里), Wanghaihsiang and Fantsaiao (番仔澳) -- as well as a port where China Petroleum Co unloads oil.

Communities near the Shenao plant that have already endured 50 years of pollution are doubtful of the necessity of squeezing in another coal ash pond and unloading dock.

According to the current plan, the outer levies of the loading dock will be nearly 2km long. This is bound to further reduce the already poor water quality around Wanghaihsiang.

Summer and winter winds and tides would make it hard to stop the pollution in the area from circulating back to the waters off Keelung and Rueifang.

The polluted water would also harm the marine life at the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology, which is under construction.

Environmental experts say the light fishing industry in the area would suffer if the Shenao plant is built.

The waters off Wanghai-hsiang and Shenao Bay contain Taiwan's largest stocks of anchovy and cuttlefish and are also an important breeding ground for sword tip squid and reef squid.

Under Taipower's plan, shipping lanes for the coal ships will be dredged, which would doubtlessly damage coral reefs and the marine shelf.

Once such habitat is damaged, the survival of the fishing industry would be threatened.

The dredging would also destroy Chaoching Park (潮竟公園) and its beautiful, hard-to-replace coral reefs, which divers refer to as their "secret underground gardens."

Leaving aside the issue of whether the plant's air pollution can be effectively controlled, its 250m chimneys -- about 83 floors high -- and six 72m coal storage silos -- about 24 floors high -- would no doubt destroy the view from houses built along the coast and would also reduce the attractiveness of nearby Chaoching Park, Chiufen (九份) and Chinkuashi (金瓜石).

The beauty of the northeastern coast is important to many people in Taiwan, not just those who live in the area.

Still, the government has not asked for input to maintain its attractiveness from such obvious sources as National Taiwan Ocean University, Pisha Harbor (碧沙港) and the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology.

The Shenao coal facility is not a simple case of planning for and building a small port.

It is fraught with problems and will have a far-reaching environmental impact.

I ask the government to take a good look at this major project, which will affect the nation's sustainable development.

I hope that the dense development of the northeast coast will leave fishery resources and and secret underground gardens intact for future generations.

Chiau Wen-yan is a professor and director of the Institute of Marine Resource Management at National Taiwan Ocean University.

Translated by Jason Cox and Perry Svensson