Air pollution in central and southern Taiwan could be ameliorated if coal-fired power plants in the regions shift to natural gas, an academic said, with legislators raising a motion to have Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) maximize output at gas-fired plants during peak pollution seasons.
National Chung Hsing University environmental engineering professor Tsuang Ben-jei (莊秉潔) spoke at a news conference about environmental power generation methods based on the replacement of coal with natural gas at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday.
Tsuang presented a computer simulation that suggested concentrations of PM2.5 — fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter — would not have reached elevated levels in many areas in Taichung and Tainan, as well as Yunlin and Chiayi counties, on Sunday if output of gas-fired plants in the region had been maximized to replace coal-fired power generation.
However, only about 33 percent of gas-fired generators in central Taiwan were running, compared with 79 percent of coal-fired generators, a ratio that mirrors a typical electricity generation profile in winter.
While gas-fired plants almost have the capacity to replace coal-fired plants, Taipower has opted for coal-powered generation due to its lower costs, forcing people to suffer poor air quality because the company wants to save money, Tsuang said.
He said each household would only have to pay an extra NT$85 per month for electricity if Taipower were to shift completely to natural gas, adding: “We could build a nuclear-free and coal-free nation for the cost of a bowl of beef noodle soup.”
Coal burning increases concentrations of heavy metals in the air, which is a significant external cost, Tsuang said.
“Taking into account the health hazards and environmental effects of coal burning, gas power generation is actually cheaper than coal by NT$2.38 per electricity unit,” he said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Su Chih-feng (蘇治芬) said she plans to propose a motion to encourage more environmentally-friendly power generation by requiring Taipower to run gas-fired plants at more than 95 percent capacity when air pollution is severe from September to April, in a bid to phase out coal-fired power generation during peak pollution seasons by 2025.
New Power Party Legislator Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) said a Taichung bylaw was passed last year to reduce the use of coal in the city by 40 percent in four years, adding that Taipower is unable to adjust to such environmental legislation with its current energy profile.
Taipower said it is not unwilling to supply more gas-generated electricity, but gas-fired plants are often scheduled for maintenance in winter to guarantee their availability in summer when electricity demand peaks.
Air pollution is caused by a variety of factors, such as traffic and the import of pollutants from abroad, in addition to power plants, Taipower said, adding that it would adopt environmental generation methods when possible.
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