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Rethinking power supply plans

source: Nov 17, 2017 / Taipei Times / By Tsai Ya-ying 蔡雅瀅

On Wednesday last week, the Cabinet held a news conference to explain its power supply strategy, during which it announced three major policies: phasing out nuclear power, ensuring a stable electricity supply and improving air quality.

From this year to 2025, the government plans a net increase of 8.896 gigawatts (GW) in gas-fired generating capacity, alongside increases of 1GW in coal-fired power, 20GW in solar power and 3GW in offshore wind power.

The Cabinet added that if a proposed third liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Taoyuan’s Guantang (觀塘) industrial area is not completed on schedule, it would adversely impact the ability to supply electricity of the planned No. 8 and No. 9 generator units of the nearby Datan (大潭) gas-fired power plant, which are scheduled to come online in 2022 and 2024 respectively.

According to the Taiwan Power Co’s (Taipower) Web site, as of last year, total installed capacity at its gas-fired power stations was 10.63GW and they consumed about 9.37 million tonnes of natural gas. As for the Datan plant’s No. 8 and No. 9 units, their capacity would be 1GW each.

Adding these two units would raise total annual natural gas consumption by about 1.76 million tonnes. Boosting Taiwan’s total annual gas-fired power supply by 8.896GW would require an increase of about 7.84 million tonnes in gas consumption.

Meanwhile, according to CPC Corp, Taiwan’s plan for building new LNG storage tanks, in 2019 its stage 2 development in Taichung would increase its capacity by 1.5 million tonnes and in 2023 its Taichung stage 3 development would boost it by a further 2 million tonnes.

In 2024, CPC’s second wharf in Taichung would boost capacity by 2 million tonnes and its stage 5 development in Kaohsiung’s Yongan (永安) port would add 1 million tonnes.

In addition, in 2024, Taipower would complete the nation’s fourth gas terminal at the Hsieh-ho (協和) power plant in Keelung, adding 1.8 million tonnes, and the fifth gas terminal at Taichung Port would provide a further 1.8 million tonnes.

As such, even if the Guantang terminal is not built, these developments planned by CPC and Taipower would increase the nation’s supply of natural gas by 10.1 million tonnes, far exceeding its future additional need of 7.84 million tonnes.

Gas-fired power generation is not zero-polluting. It produced 25.91 million tonnes, or 28.6 percent, of Taipower’s total greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel power generation last year. Natural gas is therefore just an option for bridging the gap during the transition from non-renewable to zero-emission renewable energy sources.

In view of these figures, the government should take stock of real future energy demand to avoid making excessive investments that would end up placing obstacles in the way of energy transition.

National Chung Hsing University’s environmental engineering professor Tsuang Ben-jei (莊秉潔) has said that winds at the site of the proposed Guantang LPG terminal are too strong, which would make it unusable for too many days each year.

Moreover, the water at Guantang is only 12m deep, which would make it unsuitable, given the trend for larger gas tanker ships, and hard to keep costs down.

At an environmental impact assessment meeting, a Taipower representative said that the “groin effect” caused by harbor construction would probably impede the Datan plant’s ability to draw seawater, thus preventing it from providing a stable supply of electricity and possibly even shortening its service life.

It would obviously not make sense to run the risk of nine generator units not being able to provide a stable supply of electricity, just for the sake of supplying gas for two units, or to bet on a gas supply location with bad wind conditions that would often make it unusable.

Furthermore, in response to the trend toward larger gas tanker ships, CPC is dredging Yongan port to make it 15m deep. It would therefore make no sense to build the nation’s third gas terminal from scratch at a location where the water is too shallow.

Another consideration is that the Guantang coast is home to colonies of Polycyathus chaishanensis coral, which is a protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法). Since the CPC’s risky proposal to relocate the coral does not meet the act’s exceptional conditions, the Council of Agriculture would not issue a permit.

Energy transition should take long-term effects into account. It should not involve destroying a 7,500-year-old algal reef ecosystem or choosing a location with poor conditions, all for the sake of short-term goals that are only five to seven years away.

CPC is the only supplier of LNG in the nation, with Taipower as its biggest customer, and it makes more than NT$10 billion (US$331.6 million) a year from reselling the gas.

If CPC insists on sacrificing the environment and not looking for an alternative site, it would be better to let Taipower build a gas terminal somewhere more suitable and import its own LNG.

As well as cutting the cost of gas-fired power, this would also help achieve the government’s policy goals of scrapping nuclear power and cutting air pollution.

Tsai Ya-ying is a lawyer affiliated with the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.

Translated by Julian Clegg