The government has been considering whether to reactivate the fallow No. 1 reactor at the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Shihmen District (石門), and has also been discussing a potential nationwide electricity shortage.
Taiwan has too many power plants, there is no electricity shortage, nor will there be come summer. It is all just a fabrication concocted by Taiwan Power Co (Taipower). If you leaf through the annual Bureau of Energy (BOE) report, you will discover that Taiwan’s power generation capacity far exceeds electricity usage. If you ask the wrong questions, how do you expect to arrive at the correct answers?
For four decades now, every time summer approaches, Taipower has come in with its dire predictions of the wolf at the door and, every year, the vast majority of Taiwanese fall for it. No matter what party is in government, nothing is done to call the warnings a lie.
On May 20, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was sworn in. Yes, we have a new government, but really it is just more of the same. Just when we thought the administration of previous president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had plummeted to the depths of ineptitude, along comes Tsai to prove the true depths remain unexplored. Not only is the new administration harping on about a supposed electricity shortage, it has also arbitrarily decided to mull reactivating a generator the Ma administration took out of operation 18 months ago.
Taipower is basically putting people’s lives at risk for financial interest. The reason it keeps claiming that Taiwan faces a potential electricity shortage is because it wants to secure government funding to build more plants, buy more fuel and employ more people. It has been singing this tune for 40 years.
The No. 1 reactor was mothballed a year-and-a-half ago, and in that intervening time period we have not been short of electricity. Putting the reactor back online is playing with the lives of about 23 million people. It is tantamount to an offense against public safety.
There is no shortage of electricity in Taiwan. According to the BOE report, Taiwan’s total installed capacity of electricity is over 48 gigawatts, the peak usage maxing out at more than 38 gigawatts. So where does the claim that we risk a shortage of electricity come from?
Taipower has no proactive measures in place to regulate power usage, so, during peak hours, electricity usage can go through the roof and, when it gets warm, there are a few seconds each day where electricity usage peaks. This gives the false impression that there is not enough, helping Taipower to persuade us of the need to build new plants.
Many people said that there would be a shortage of electricity if we did not build the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮). So it was built.
This Fourth Nuclear Power Plant has yet to produce a single watt of electricity, and not only have our electricity supplies not dried up or had to be rationed, the price of electricity has even been adjusted downward.
Taiwan is always looking down on China for not being as advanced. If you look at the economic growth China has experienced in the past 30 years, you will see that the country often has electricity shortages and has implemented electricity rationing on many occasions. This has not prevented China from achieving the impressive economic growth that it has.
The reason for this is simple: it is the heavy power usage of emerging industries that have led to the power shortages. It is not that electricity shortages impede economic growth; economic development leads to electricity shortages.
We could also look at how China has dealt with the differential between peak and off-peak demand for electricity. Their solution was actually quite simple. They have used electricity rates to control electricity usage behavior.
Demand drives generation, power generation does not drive demand; electricity is produced to meet demand, it is not that the power companies produce power in the anticipation of its use. By controlling the behavior of users through costs at any given time, companies are able to distribute electricity usage more evenly between peak and off-peak periods, and the issue ceases to be cause for concern.
It is widely understood in China that household electricity usage is divided into two: peak and off-peak. The peak period is from 6am until 10pm. For the eight intervening hours, the rate is half the peak rate. This cut in the rate is sufficient incentive to encourage people to leave household chores, such as washing and ironing clothes, or turning on air conditioning, until after 10 pm. Each household gets a base level of 3,120 units — one unit is 1KWh — per year: If they exceed this, the electricity fee starts to mount.
In addition, industry pays double the rate ordinary households do. Again, the actual rate depends on the time of day, but this time it is divided into four periods; high-peak, peak, standard and off-peak.
At the standard rate, electricity costs 1 yuan per unit, high-peak being as much as 2 yuan, and it increases incrementally.
The Chinese government believes that industry can conserve energy if it wants to and can employ active cost-saving measures, including developing energy conservation products and processes, something that ordinary households cannot do.
Industry uses high volumes of electricity, making it easier to regulate. Getting industrial electricity usage under control would go a long way to solving Taiwan’s problem.
We can see from China’s example that variable pricing is one way to avoid peak time electricity shortages. What is strange, given the length of time the “PhD” Cabinet of the last administration was in contact with China, is that this does not appear to have occurred to anybody.
It is not like this would involve a major upheaval in Taiwan. Taipower would only need to adjust household electricity meters. This would be completely within the remit of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, to make electricity prices more reasonable.
If Taipower wants to push a smart grid, it could do it with NT$1,000 or NT$2,000 electricity meters that can be made in Taiwan and yet are sold overseas.
Taipower has started offering these over the past three years, but only to a minority of households that use more than 700 units a month. Why not implement this to everyone? Because the minute they do roll it out, the lie of electricity deficits would be exposed.
How is the Tsai administration going to cope with transitional justice if it cannot even get basic math correct?
I know the Cabinet probably dropped in IQ when the government changed, but surely this nuclear issue has not made it drop to near zero?
Jay Fang is chairman of the Green Consumers’ Foundation.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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