One of the many ways state subsidies shape Taiwan is the island's low prices for electricity, in the news at the end of August.... (China Post):
Economics Minister Chang Chia-juch yesterday said Taiwan has the highest average electricity consumption per person in Asia and electricity prices are among the cheapest in the world.The Minister is half-right. The low price of electricity certainly encourages waste. It also helps make possible the incredibly stupid housing in Taiwan, the uninsulated concrete boxes that the construction industry puts up all over the island driven by subsidized concrete, subsidized labor, and land subsidy/quota systems that encourage overbuilding and illegal construction. The entire system is one vast Amazonian-style delta of short-sighted planning, short-term profit, and private plunder of the public treasury. Taipower's finances are both a casualty and a cause of the mess. The article notes that rising fuel costs are hurting the company:
Household electricity prices are the second lowest in the world, while industrial electricity is the second cheapest in Asia and fourth in the world, Chang said.
Such a price structure is hindering the government's efforts to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, but at the same time encouraging waste, he said during a radio interview, as he defended the economics ministry's decision to raise electricity prices in October.
A breakdown of the fuel cost shows that over the past 10 years, oil costs have soared 29 percent, coal 168 percent and natural gas 100 percent, Chang said.The smart and obvious thing to do would be to vastly expand wind power and to solarize every roof like Germany, along with requiring that future construction be environmentally sound, and implementing conservation programs. But with the legislature being an appendage of the construction-industrial state, that is hardly likely. Moreover, there is another problem with solarizing/upgrading housing infrastructure. Consider this panorama of Puli city in Nantou I took this summer:
Because of the buildings are too small, everyone has houses that are too small, and so building owners build them out (illegally expanded balconies) and up illegally. See all those metal roofs? They represent additional floors added by building owners. I would bet money that each and every one is illegal.* Now imagine if the government came through and tried to solarize this town. What would happen to all those rooftop apartments that are being rented out? What would happen to all those top floor altars? Top floor storage areas? Many of these top floors also have illegal electricity and water connections as well. Solarizing would mean formalizing all that informality and illegality, something many, many building owners would rather avoid. This is not a problem created by the selfishness or lawlessness of Taiwanese; Taiwanese are rational decision-makers, attempting to create desperately needed space denied them by a government policy that appears to exist solely to subsidize the concrete and construction industries. Such construction should really be seen as subversive, in its way...
If you want a view of how the opinion leaders think about this, check out this United Daily News editorial that the KMT news organ passed around. Clearly somebody must have thought it was good. To its credit, it kinda sorta realizes that Taipower is subsidizing industry, though it focuses on small businesses.....
Taipower finds itself trapped and immobilized. The Nuclear Power Plant No. 4 remains a hot potato. The liberalization of the energy industry and the promotion of green energy have fiascoes, like the proverbial blind men struggling to discern the shape of an elephant. Taiwan's political and business environment is deformed. Well-intentioned policies invariably attract unscrupulous politicians. State-owned enterprises have long transformed benefits into exclusive slush funds. As a result, Taipower losses have skyrocketed. Realistic constraints are vital. The cure must fit the disease. Rate hikes are better than nothing, but that is about all they are.If you read it carefully, it focuses on the revenue issue. How high do rate hikes have to go? It rightly recognizes that rate hikes aren't the answer. But the piece is still shot through with developmentalist-state mentality: not a word about conservation. This means that readers don't read about conservation, and don't think about it as a valid form of public policy.
*reflect on this whenever you hear bureaucrats piously intoning how the government obeys the law. Indeed, whenever I hear officials say they are acting in accordance with the law, it is almost always the case that someone is getting the shaft.
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