Sunday, April 16, 2017

Renewable Energy saves climate, creates justice

Wind machines at Gamei Wetlands. The Sacred Ibis in the foreground are an invasive species, zoo escapees.

So... the two wind machines were talking. One asked the other: "What's your favorite kind of music?" And the second replied: "I'm a huge metal fan..."

Sorry, I couldn't resist. The nation’s drive to reach the goal of 20% renewable energy by 2025 took a huge step forward this week with funding provided from the Forward Taiwan plan to renovate a section of Taichung port as a wind power zone. The port area will focus on wind power parts and construction for serving the large offshore wind power program in the Taiwan Strait. 2025 is also the year the government has said it will phase out nuclear power.

Last month a Dutch consulting firm and a Taiwan engineering firm signed an MOU to jointly tender for the first phase of the offshore wind program, 110MW of wind power. That phase is expected to be completed by 2020 at a cost of over US$600 million.

The second phase consists of another 900MW of wind power off of Lukang in Changhua. This program is in turn part of plans for 4GW of wind power by 2030 for a total of 14GW of renewable energy. Of the 36 wind power sites under this plan, 21 are in Changhua.

Critical to the renewable energy plan is the Administration’s move to break up Taipower, which has long been viewed as strongly opposed to green power. The Tsai Administration stated last year that the revision was to facilitate the growth of green power.

Originally the plan was to break it up into four subdivisions of generation, transmission, distribution, and sales, but that was subsequently changed in light of public fears that private power companies would gain control of those subdivisions. The current plan has Taipower remaining a state owned firm but with two subdivisions, generation and transmission, and distribution and sales.

Let us not forget: Taipower is deeply enmeshed KMT party and patronage politics. As political scientist Nathan Batto observed in a piece on the hapless Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP), during the Ma Administration, the head of the worker’s union at Taipower was a KMT Central Standing Committee member. Taipower is a key component of the KMT’s Japan-style construction-industrial state, under which money flows out of the government to patronage networks across Taiwan for local infrastructure projects.

It is probably just a coincidence, as a friend of mine observed to me, that the KMT proposed a public referendum on 4NPP in 2013 only after all of the payments contracts for construction had been completed. Taipower also handed out the largest cut in electricity prices ever in the waning days of the lame duck Ma Administration, a sop to the KMT’s big business cronies who run large electricity-intensive manufacturing. It was also a move that will force the DPP to raise electricity rates to recover the lost funds and service Taipower’s debt crisis. Low prices also drive demand for electricity, especially nuclear power, inhibit conservation, and make it more difficult to implement renewables.

Thus, breaking up Taipower to advance renewable energy in Taiwan is also a way to reduce the KMT’s colonial control of the nation’s bureaucracy and infrastructure programs. This is just as important as striking at its ill-gotten assets or taking its seats in the legislature.

Breaking up Taipower will also have other benefits for the nation and for democratic justice.

Taipower has a checkered history of apparent collusion with big business. Back in 2008, for example, just as the company was about to come under investigation for alleged crony purchasing of overpriced coal, its offices were burglarized. Out of the many things in the office, only the documents related to the questionable coal purchases were taken. No doubt the thieves were just looking for paper to sell to recyclers.

In another case in 2013, Taipower was accused of colluding with state-owned firms on electricity power purchases. Nine “independent” power producers did not renegotiate for higher prices for the power sold to Taipower, even though the company made a formal request that they do so. The whole exercise was apparently a charade as Taipower only made the offer knowing they would not renegotiate. Four firms were slapped with massive fines.

Perhaps Taipower’s most serious problem is its treatment of indigenous peoples. Taipower’s reflexive solution for nuclear waste appears to be giving to Taiwan’s aborigines. Most readers will be familiar with the sordid tale of how by trickery the low level nuclear waste dump arrived on Orchid Island. That is actually part of a larger pattern.

At present there is no place and no concrete plan for disposal of the high level waste from Taiwan’s nuclear power plants, just a declared intention to dispose the waste on an uninhabited island with the final decision made by 2038.

In 2012 DPP legislator Hsaio Bi-khim was alerted by locals to drilling going on in Hualien’s Sioulin Township, whose residents are indigenous people. Hsiao made inquiries, and it turned out that Taipower was looking for potential sites for geological disposal of Taiwan’s high level nuclear waste. Taipower had not bothered to seek permission or even to inform the locals of the drilling program.

Anyone familiar with environmental racism will recognize the dynamic inherent in such power plays.

Renewable energy programs are not just a way of addressing global society’s mad determination to boil the ecosphere and do away with human civilization, though that is what they are most urgently needed for. At home, they are also a way to move toward a more democratic, more equitable, and cleaner government and society.
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