Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the pride of the nation, has recently become a villain to residents of Tainan’s Annan District (安南).
In 2017, TSMC announced plans to build the world’s first 3-nanometer fab in Anding District (安定). While the project was once welcomed by residents of Tainan, it has since become a source of controversy.
The new fab requires a huge amount of electricity to operate. To meet TSMC’s surging electricity demand, plans are under way to construct a 1.2 gigawatt gas power station near a residential area in Annan District.
More than 10,000 Annan residents have signed a petition opposing the power plant’s construction.
Locals fear that the power plant will worsen air pollution in the region, which is already severe. In Tainan, average concentrations of toxic PM2.5 pollution — particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers — are already about four times higher than the WHO standard. The planned location of the power plant is within a few kilometers of communities, schools and a hospital.
Moreover, residents are worried about potential gas explosions resulting from the construction of pipelines in the area. Environmentalists have also raised concerns that the site is home to protected species, such as the grass owl.
The case has garnered significant local media attention, but TSMC hides behind the scenes, as if the controversy were unrelated to it. Yet as the planned power plant’s biggest customer, TSMC is central to the story.
TSMC’s failure to stand up for the residents of Annan is merely the latest example of the company’s delayed transition to renewable energy.
Worldwide, TSMC lags behind its competitors when it comes to renewable energy usage. In 2021, renewable energy accounted for just 9 percent of TSMC’s overall electricity consumption, compared with 20 percent for Samsung and 80 percent for Intel.
At the same time, TSMC is working toward its climate commitments at a pace that does not match its role as an industry leader. In 2020, TSMC was the first semiconductor company to join RE100 and targeted 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
However, in the first year of joining the global initiative, TSMC’s renewable energy ratio increased by only 2 percent. TSMC’s target of 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050 leaves much space for the company to fool around with empty words and false actions.
As a RE100 member, TSMC must stand with residents of Annan and oppose the construction of the planned gas power plant. This case foreshadows many more to come. TSMC’s electricity usage in Taiwan is forecast to increase about threefold between 2020 and 2030.
Taiwan’s renewable energy generation is insufficient to meet rising demand. In addition to purchasing offshore wind energy via corporate power purchase agreements, TSMC must diversify its own renewable energy portfolio, and increase direct investment in renewable energy and self generation, especially in the form of rooftop solar panels on its buildings.
A greater commitment to renewable energy, as well as support for the local community in rejecting the planned power plant, would serve as vital proof of TSMC’s determination regarding energy transition.
Lawmakers on Jan. 9 passed legislation offering tax credits to chipmakers such as TSMC to foster research and investment in advanced technologies. The energy-intensive semiconductor industry is likely to remain the most strategically important sector in Taiwan for years to come.
However, for too long, TSMC and the industry as a whole have hidden behind the government, demanding large amounts of cheap electricity and water.
It is time for TSMC and other manufacturing giants to take greater responsibility for Taiwan’s net zero future and show that they are serious about achieving an energy transition that benefits all of Taiwan, including residents of Annan.
Tracy Cheng is a campaigner in the Greenpeace Taipei Office.
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