As part of an effort to improve the northeastern section of the nation’s power grid, state-owned Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) plans to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal off Keelung’s Jhongshan District (中山) to convert the oil-fired Hsieh-ho Power Plant into a gas-fired facility.
The project requires reclaiming land from the sea, which is controversial, so the Ocean Affairs Council wants Taipower to propose alternative solutions.
Meanwhile, local groups in Keelung have started gathering signatures for a referendum to stop the project. Environmental groups want to protect the sea, while interests associated with the Port of Keelung also oppose the plan, which would be the nation’s fourth LNG terminal.
To address environmental and feasibility issues Taipower could unload the gas at another site and transfer it through a pipeline to the power plant. Such a change might ease people’s concerns.
The terminal was originally planned to be built on land reclaimed from the sea on the west side of Hsieh-ho Power Plant, near Waimushan (外木山), where it would have little effect on the Port of Keelung. It was expected to avoid significant opposition when the Executive Yuan approved the project, but that proposal meant the terminal would clearly occupy an important fishing area, and was thus sure to draw a backlash from the local fisher community.
An alternative proposal suggested moving the terminal’s western seawall toward the port, but that would still be too close to fishing areas. A third version of the land reclamation plan was abruptly moved to the east side of the Hsieh-ho Power Plant, but that would have put it close to the Port of Keelung, which of course caused a backlash from interests associated with the port.
In hindsight, the original decision to reclaim land off the coast near the Hsieh-ho Power Plant doomed the project to controversy, not to mention the ecological and coastal hazards involved.
The project, subject to inherent environmental restrictions, would cause definite ecological effects. It is within the Keelung City Aquatic Plants and Animals Conservation Area (基隆市水產動植物保育區),” and under the Fisheries Act (漁業法), “the municipal/county/city competent authority with jurisdiction over the conservation zone shall be responsible for the management of the conservation zone.”
As such, it is unclear whether the Keelung City Government has the power to approve or reject the project. With the added factor of a possible referendum, it is clear that construction of the terminal would require close cooperation and consensus between the central government and local authorities.
It also appears that a new approach to its construction would make it easier to promote.
Redesigning the project to have the LNG piped in from another site, with no need for land reclamation or the construction of dikes, would make it less controversial. CPC Corp, Taiwan has already started work on the nearby Shenao (深澳) LNG terminal.
A pier could be built even closer off the southeast of Keelung Islet (基隆嶼), which could be connected to the Hsieh-ho Power Plant by an undersea pipeline less than 6km long. Such a pipeline could pass through the Port of Keelung’s anchorage area by submerged tunneling to protect it from being accidentally struck or ripped open by a ship lowering its anchor.
Taipower should bear in mind the lesson of its plan to expand and reopen the coal-fired Shenao Power Plant (深澳電廠) in New Taipei City’s Rueifang District (瑞芳), which was scrapped in 2018, and pay more attention to protecting the environment and respecting the local ecology.
The Hsieh-ho Power Plant renewal project went from Taipower’s feasibility proposal to approval by the Executive Yuan in less than two years, but its environmental impact assessment has dragged on for four-and-a-half years without being approved. This adds up to six-and-a-half years of treading water and constant conflict.
Let us hope that the environmental impact assessment will not end up being forced through, which would put pressure on the construction workers and could lead to disaster. The Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法) stipulates that major projects pass an environmental impact assessment. This procedure is necessary, but conducting the environmental impact statement and feasibility assessment of major projects simultaneously would be one possible way of forcing developers to pay attention to the environment as well as their construction schedule, thus leading to fewer controversies.
Johnson Kung is a civil engineer and director of the Taiwan Professional Civil Engineers’ Association.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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