The National Energy Conference currently being held in Taipei has pushed energy issues into the spotlight. This comes on the back of news earlier this week that German wind power company InfraVest threatened to withdraw from Taiwan if the government did not implement policies to support renewable energy.
At the conference President Ma called on the Legislative Yuan to pass the renewable energy law. The Taipei Times reported the DPP and KMT finger pointing at each other over the failure to pass the renewable energy bill. Both parties must shoulder the blame. The DPP controlled the executive for eight years and failed to implement effective energy policies. The pan-blue parties had a majority in the legislature during this time and failed to pass the renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction laws.
The challenges Taiwan faces in energy policy are enormous. It is a small densely populated island which is almost entirely reliant on imported sources of energy, be they fossil fuels or nuclear. Although the development of the renewable energy sector is very important, energy demands from the industrial sector cannot be met by renewable sources alone. If Taiwan wants to maintain its export-oriented manufacturing economy then continued use of either coal or nuclear power is hard to avoid.
This raises the specter of an expansion of nuclear power. When DPP was elected in 2000 they had a policy to stop construction of the fourth nuclear power plant, however they were defeated on this issue and the construction of the fourth power plant went ahead. The KMT has no ideological opposition to nuclear power and its return to power means that potential expansion of nuclear power in Taiwan is back on the agenda.
One of Taiwan’s most distinguished scientists and academics, Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), backed the use of nuclear power. This was in opposition to the views environmentalists who protested outside the conference. The Taiwan News made nuclear power the topic of their editorial today. The Taiwan News suggests the KMT has ulterior motives in supporting nuclear power.
In fact, nuclear power is the first choice of the KMT party-state, bureaucratic capital and big business community, less for its alleged “low carbon” character and more for the cornucopia of massive taxpayer financed construction budgets and lucrative government and state enterprise contracts and centralized control over power grids.
Although Lee Yuan-tseh expressed support for nuclear power it was qualified and he was critical of the KMT’s mentality. The Taiwan News again writes,
[Lee] put the question facing all of Taiwan’s 23 million people in stark terms by highlighting the urgency of awakening to the inevitability of radical changes in economic production and consumption patterns and lifestyles if we are to avoid the global eradication of humanity.
Lee also pointedly broke with the single-minded obsession of the KMT government with promoting fast growth rates as the ultimate policy goal by placing primacy on “global humanity competitiveness” instead of “national economic competitiveness.”
The environmentalists protesting also raised similar concerns. However, the issue of changing lifestyles and new economic models is not really discussed in Taiwan outside the world of NGOs and academia. It is a vitally important topic, but one that has yet to engage mainstream discussion.
Although the issue of climate change is being mentioned here, peak oil seems to not even be on the radar. Yet this may also become a reality within a decade or two. This makes it doubly important for the urgent implementation of policies which will secure Taiwan’s future energy supply in a world of climate change and peak oil.
There are no simple solutions at all to the energy issues, however it is clear that both government and industry in Taiwan must make development of the renewable energy sector a high priority. Taiwan can play a dual role of manufacturing green energy technologies for export as well as using renewable energy to meet an increasing percentage of its own energy needs. There also needs to be a broader debate about lifestyles and how Taiwanese should live in the 21st century.