Groups submit signatures for referendum against natural gas facility

Taipei, A coalition of environmental activists on Thursday submitted over 700,000 signatures in support of a referendum to move the site of a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, on which work has already begun, claiming that it poses a threat to an algae reef in northern Taiwan.

The Rescue Datan Algal Reefs Alliance said it collected a total of 703,504 signatures -- more than double the amount needed to clear the second-stage legal threshold -- to call a national referendum on the relocation of the proposed LNG station off the coast of Datan Borough in Taoyuan.

The terminal, a reception facility for unloading cargo from LNG tanker ships, was planned at the site because of its proximity to nearby Datan Power Plant.

Opponents of the project, however, have argued that it will cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem supported by the 27-kilometer reef, which is already threatened by pollution on Taiwan's industrialized northwest coast.

At a press conference on Thursday, before turning the signatures over to the CEC, Alliance convener Pan Chong-cheng (???) hailed the proposed referendum as a chance for public opinion to turn back the implementation of an "incorrect policy."

Chen Hsien-cheng (???), director of the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, called on the government to suspend all construction at the site until a referendum can be held, and urged the Cabinet to immediately propose an alternative to the plan.

The groups also slammed the government for an alleged lack of transparency during the project's environmental review, and accused the Cabinet of interfering to ensure it was approved.

Tsai Ya-ying a lawyer for the association, refuted criticism that a referendum would boost efforts to activate the mothballed No. 4 nuclear power plant, noting that the groups' petition specifically calls for the use of non-nuclear sources to reduce Taiwan's reliance on coal.

The signatures submitted easily surpass the second-stage legal threshold of 1.5 percent of the total electorate, or 289,667 signatures, required under the Referendum Act, making it highly likely that a vote will be called once they are certified.

If that happens, the next possible referendum could take place on Aug. 28, and would require a majority vote in favor with over 25 percent of the electorate -- around 4.8 million people -- casting ballots to become valid.

In response to the groups' efforts, Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua said Thursday that the sides were in agreement on the need to reduce reliance on coal by using sources other than nuclear power, but insisted that the planned terminal is vital to Taiwan's energy needs.

The proposed facility will receive LNG shipments for two new units (8 and 9) at the Datan Power Plant, which will generate about 13.7 billion kilowatt hours annually, or around 6 percent of Taiwan's total power generation, she said.

Meanwhile, Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng vowed that the terminal's construction would not destroy the algae reef, and said the government is willing to invest more to ensure that it is protected, but as of right now is not considering any alternative locations.

"The reduction of air pollution is also an environmental issue, and by using natural gas to supplant coal as an energy source, we'll be better protecting people's health," Lo said, calling the referendum "a choice between environmental concerns on both sides."

In terms of the political response, the centrist Taiwan People's Party, which holds five seats in the 113-member Legislature, called on the government to commit to implementing the results of a referendum on the issue, raising questions as to whether the outcome of the referendum would be binding.

The largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has voiced support for the referendum, but it also backs the continued use of nuclear power until green sources can meet more of Taiwan's energy needs.

The governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), by contrast, wants to phase out nuclear power, and sees natural gas as preferable to coal until green energy becomes more viable.

According to Taiwan Power Company, natural gas accounted for 40.8 percent of Taiwan's energy generation in 2020, followed by coal at 36.4 percent, nuclear at 12.7 percent, and renewable energy at 5.8 percent, with various other sources making up the remaining 4.3 percent.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel