Mon, Jun 17, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Wind turbine troubles

A group of residents in Miaoli County have banded together to halt the construction of wind turbines close to their homes. But corporate interests are getting in the way

By Ketty Chen and J. Michael Cole  /  Contributing reporter and staff reporter

During our visit at the No. 26 site, we briefly spoke with Galynn Brackett, the team leader for equipment installation with Solvent GmbH Taiwan Branch, based in Greater Taichung. We asked the American what he thought of the protests.

“You know, I do my job and they do what they think is right,” he said. “Yes, there’s a bit of noise, but given the choice between air pollution and that, I’d take the noise.” Compared with fossil-fueled generation, wind power is indeed clean, as it produces no CO2 and does not emit particulate matter, something that cannot be said of coal generation or the oil industry.

He also maintained that the InfraVest turbines use very little oil, which reduces the risks of leaks and fire — and catastrophes that have made for gripping news clips worldwide — and was adamant that the structures could withstand even the most severe of Taiwan’s typhoons.

After Yuanli residents began to physically block InfraVest trucks from accessing the construction site, many students joined the fight. Meanwhile, Yuanli Township Mayor Tu Wen-ching (杜文卿), a former legislator, and Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) offered negotiation and arbitration meetings, but those went nowhere, as the residents felt that government officials were siding with the company. InfraVest proceeded with construction as negotiations continued, a move that residents saw as a sign of insincerity.

CORPORATE INTERESTS

The strong resistance from Yuanli residents and university students has become a source of frustration for InfraVest. The company has already invested considerable resources in wind turbine projects on Taiwan’s west coast. Every day the Yuanli project falls behind schedule, the company loses money and time for projects elsewhere.

“I am very sincere in negotiating with the residents,” said Wang Yun-yi (王雲怡), the vice president of InfraVest Taiwan, who was overseeing construction at the No. 26 site the day we visited. “I already made several concessions, but now the residents are saying they won’t allow me to build any turbine. All our hard work in the past six or seven years, down the drain.”

The firm’s first wind turbines, also built in Miaoli, began operation in March 2006. According to the company Web site, a total of 165 wind turbines have been built, or are being built, since the firm entered Taiwan in 2000. While other firms have entered the Taiwan market, InfraVest has made no secret of its intention to monopolize the country’s wind energy sector.

The firm threatened to leave Taiwan in 2006 after it accused the government of not being serious about green energy and cutting into its profit margins.

“Even though we received approval to build 14 wind turbines, we are willing to build just four. Just let us do our work and we’ll go after we’re done,” Wang said, as private security hired by the firm filmed the conversation. “They accuse us of falsifying surveys. The fact is, we have permission to build here. By the way, these protesters don’t even live near the No. 26 site.”

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