Premier opens door to dropping new coal-fired power plant project

Taipei, Premier Lai Ching-te (???) raised the possibility Friday of scrapping the much-criticized plan to expand the Shen'ao coal-fired power plant, but only if another environmentally controversial energy project is allowed to proceed to completion.

At a legislative hearing, Lai promised to study the feasibility of not proceeding with work on the Shen'ao project on condition that the plan to build Taiwan's third liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal to support more gas-fired generators proceeds smoothly.

He said the terminal project in Taoyuan would have to pass environmental impact assessments, be built on schedule and be found to meet the country's electricity demand before the Shen'ao project could be reconsidered.

The LNG terminal at present could start operating by the first quarter of 2023 if it passes an assessment at a planned meeting on Monday, while the government hopes the expanded Shen'ao plant in New Taipei could come on line in mid-2025, by which time nuclear power will be phased out.

The construction of the third LNG receiving terminal was scheduled to begin last August but was postponed due to delayed environmental impact assessments.

In response to questions by ruling Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (???) about the Shen'ao power plant, Lai said the planned LNG receiving station is necessary to meet the government's target of 50 percent of Taiwan's electricity coming from natural gas, up from the current 30-plus percent, he said.

Once the station begins to run, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) will review its LNG-generated energy plans, Lai said.

At that time "if new natural gas-generated electricity can meet power demand, the Executive Yuan will allow the MOEA to re-evaluate the possibility of stopping work on the Shen'ao power plant's expansion," he said.

Lai's pledge did little, however, to settle the dispute over the two projects, opposed by environmentalists because one raises air pollution concerns and the other threatens an endemic species of crustose coralline algae on coastal reefs.

The Cabinet's decision in March to reopen the decommissioned coal-fired plant to cope with growing electricity demand has been heavily criticized as contrary to the government's environmental and energy policies, including its goals to reduce carbon emissions.

On Friday, a civil group opposed to the Shen'ao project said it is sending letters asking all candidates running in the Nov. 24 local elections in Taipei, New Taipei and Keelung to sign a pledge saying they will not support expanding the coal-fired facility.

Chen Chih-chiang (???), head of the Anti-Shen'ao Self-Help Association, said they will publicize the candidates' answers to the group's appeal one week before the elections.

Citing a health risk assessment published by Greenpeace last month, Chen said the Shen'ao power plant will have an "irreversible impact" on the health of people living in northern Taiwan, particularly New Taipei residents.

He suggested that the NT$100 billion (US$3.23 billion) allocated to upgrade the Shen'ao power plant be diverted instead to the construction of green energy facilities, such as smart power grids.

The Shen'ao project could also be shot down in a referendum if the question is allowed to be put before voters.

The Central Election Commission is scheduled to review an anti-Shen'ao power plant referendum proposal as early as Tuesday after it received 313,165 valid public endorsements, exceeding the threshold of 281,745 endorsements for a referendum to be held in conjunction with the year-end local elections.

As for activists opposed to the LNG terminal project, they are planning a protest march on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office 20 days before the elections, said Taiwan Healthy Air Action Alliance Director Yeh Guang-peng (???) on Friday.

"Civil groups have been pushed to the limit by both the Shen'ao and algal reef cases," Yeh said, urging people to join the march and voice their appeal so that the government can hear them.

The Shen'ao Power Plant, which began operations in 1960 with three generators that produced 40 megawatts of power, was decommissioned in 2007.

To meet power demand in northern Taiwan in the future as nuclear power is phased out, Taipower proposed a reopening and expansion project in 2017 that included plans to install two generators that would produce a total of 160 megawatts of electricity.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel