Tsai Ing-wen’s energy dependence on Mainland China – worse than her ECFA-doom scenarios

Nuclear Power Station in Pingtung County (Southern Taiwan Province, ROC)

With less than a week to go until the 2012 Republic of China Presidential & Legislative Elections, it is time to unveil the doom that awaits Taiwan, should Tsai Ing-wen win.

So far, the Taiwanese approach to the welfare system, healthcare and energy policy have been reasonable regardless of the president’s party affiliation. Taiwan has socialized healthcare that actually works as nobody is burdened by the premiums, no business discouraged and those who excessively visit clinics for their pastime pay for each visit. Taiwan also has a welfare system that emphasizes a family’s responsibility before socializing problems.

When it comes to energy policy – so far – Taiwan has found a reasonable approach as well. But, you might have guessed it, nobody is safe from the Fukushima craze. Luckily, this was not a prime campaign topic, despite “Dr. Tsai” (Note: a PhD is a great way of covering a total lack of experience in elected offices!) attempting to make it one.

Now what exactly can the Taiwan people expect from a DPP-President (other than corruption like in the case of Chen Shui-bian)? The answer is simple: a huge dependence on imported fossil fuels. Tsai Ing-wen committed herself to making Taiwan nuclear power free by the year 2025 – that is little more than a decade.

“Tsai said a referendum to stop nuclear power in Italy and Germany’s efforts to increase the proportion of energy generated by renewable energy were examples of how other countries had decided to adopt a green energy policy — a path that Taiwan should follow.”

Even accounting for the great progress renewable energies have made in the last ten years, it is highly doubtful that Taiwan can largely depend on solar and wind energy by the next decade.

Noteworthy are the two nations that Tsai Ing-wen mentions as role models for Taiwan:

Italy had been free of (domestic) nuclear power since the early 1990s, instead the country heavily relies on fossil fuels and imported (Slovenian) nuclear power. The referendum of June 2011 did nothing more but reaffirm the status quo in law.

For those who have recently read any piece on Germany’s energy sector, it shouldn’t be any news that moving a country towards green energy sounds like a great idea – but leads to huge problems. Currently, German utility companies import nuclear power from France and will have to do so even more in the future. Even Germany, where for 7 years a green party was part of a coalition government and therefore the political will was given, did not manage to even achieve a 10% dependability on solar and wind power.

Instead, Taiwan will need to rely on even more fossil fuels with Tsai Ing-wen as president. The question only is, where to procure these fuels? Russia? Or how about Mainland China?

Ironically, while Tsai Ing-wen was against the ECFA for its alleged surrender of Taiwan to the PRC, her energy policy will make Taiwan a tributary realm of Beijing.

Europe has already felt the downside of depending on Russia’s gas and oil – Taiwan can expect the same when electing Tsai Ing-wen as president.

President Ma Ying-jeou on the other hand is (as so often) the more reasonable presidential candidate: he does not want to shut the door on nuclear energy before renewable energy is ready to sustain the country without an increase in foreign fuels dependence.

12 thoughts on “Tsai Ing-wen’s energy dependence on Mainland China – worse than her ECFA-doom scenarios

  1. On nuclear energy, I suspect Ma might actually be wrong in his claim that it is the cheapest means to produce electricity on an industrial scale; somebody ought to look at the math again for gas-fired power plants against nuclear (I strongly suspect gas now outperforms nuclear), but the essential problem for nuclear plants is that they can’t even get built because of (often deliberately misinformed) opposition from silly little kids at the punyversities.

    On fossil fuel imports – this is one reason why the West must overcome its drive for so-called “environmental sustainability” (i.e. to turn off the lights). Taiwan would be far better off with the option to import fossil fuels from Western countries than to rely only on Chinese imports. Ain’t going to happen any time in the foreseeable future.

    More generally, a radical proposal on energy would be the eventual privatization of electricity production (i.e. the removal of all State involvement via subsidies, tax policy and State control of the grid). Allowing electricity production and transmission from multiple providers* instead of one would generate competition – if control of the grid infrastructure is demonopolized. This policy would actually be more palleable to the Left than they typically realize since not only might it generate the “rationalization” (i.e. increase) of electricity prices that they argue for (at least in the short to medium term), but it would also necessitate a shift in electricity consumption patterns and/or investment in more efficient transmission. Another interesting question which privatization would allow us to consider more fairly, would be how unpopular nuclear power really is – to the extent that the public genuinely do dislike nuclear power, privatization may eventuate the decommissioning of the nuclear power plants in Taipei County and Kenting.

    * And not necessarily from centralized power stations either, but perhaps from small, new, and innovative generators installed in apartment buildings or neighbourhoods.

    • The general issue with privatizing electricity in Taiwan is that it’s too small, there’s simply no room for multiple competitors, gasolines and telecoms are both good examples of half arsed attempted to privatize state owned busniess here that turned out to do almost no good to the public. Tai power does allow some private producer though, but very few.
      I do agree though that Nuclear power is probably more expensive than the KMT claim, though ti does have the advantage of being much more stable unlike fosile fuel prices.

      The DPP’s problem with their proposal is the that they are throwing out fantasies like wind power or “technologies in the future” to replace nuclear power, cause if they say the more realistic “we’ll just replace it with dirty coal plants” it obviously won’t play politically.

      FWIW, over the last decade or so taiwan have installed 200+ wind mills each at a crazy 3.5 Million USD a piece (roughly) and they combine for about 0.5% of taiwan’s energy output….. and most of it during the less energy starved winter too. several already have been broken by Taiwan’s numerous Typhoons. that 200+ windmill itself already cost way more than a nuclear powerplant.

      However, energy prices SHOULD go up, but neither party so far have the guts to do it. research have shown that in recent decades energy conservation commercials have done more to save carbon than those wind mills.

      • Much of continental Europe privatized the energy market, while retaining the infrastructure in public property. Different power station operators compete for customers. Despite this rather free market, electricity prices are still much higher than in Taiwan. I doubt the industry or even average citizens would profit from a privatization in Taiwan.
        That being said, no wonder neither Kuomintang, nor the DPP talk about the need for rising prices. Has anybody ever thought about better building insulation? Houses in Taiwan are built like garages elsewhere…

      • At FT: yes that is part of the problem as well, building in Taiwan, especially those tin foil houses are horrific in terms of that, they’re abosalute melting pots during the summer.

        They are making inroads towards that, as I’ve pointed out Tai power’s own research showed that energy conservation over the last decade or so already have much more effect than any other hardware type of changes.

        what Tai power probably should do is to do a floating electricity price thing, for example cost goes up during intensive periods like the days of summer, and then fall in other times. that’ll kill two birds with one stone so to speak.

      • They already charge more per kw/hour of electricity in the summer. I highly doubt though that people will change their A/C habits beyond turning the A/C off when they are not at home (yeah, people actually had it running 24/7 in the past!). The government should pay subsidies to homeowners who properly insulate their buildings through property tax cuts.

  2. “The general issue with privatizing electricity in Taiwan is that it’s too small, there’s simply no room for multiple competitors…”

    For god’s sake man: we suffer from electricity shortages right now. Taipower simply isn’t producing enough electricity to feed demand, partly because much of that demand cannot be expressed through market mechanisms (e.g. streetlights – which are run by the local governments and which are almost everywhere on this island… pathetic; and they are often even turned off at night so that current may be redirected elsewhere, i.e. to the large FABs).

    “Much of continental Europe privatized the energy market, while retaining the infrastructure in public property. Different power station operators compete for customers. Despite this rather free market…”

    Question: who are these “customers”?

    “I doubt the industry or even average citizens would profit from a privatization in Taiwan.”

    Much depends on how it is implemented… I don’t have time to go into this to any detail now, but you’re not taking into account the “unseen” costs of de-facto State monopoly; what you don’t pay for directly on your monthly bill, you pay for in other ways. I think the two of you are being very short sighted.

    • Interesting Mike, I didn’t quite realize that, I had thought that most of the street light not being on was a result of local finance of many counties, espeically those in the south where there’s a serious depopulation problem, are basically in ruins and can’t pay their bills. so they resort to turning off the lights, I read that some county office were even threatened by Tai Power that if they don’t pay their bill soon they’re going to get completely cut off.

      Because if you think about it, power demand should actually be higher during the day when most office and factories are running. at least that is what I recall though my memory is fuzzy on those details.

  3. In some of the smaller districts it may indeed be that the lights go out because local government doesn’t have the cash. What I had in mind was the Xinsih district of Tainan County in which the greater part of the Nanker “science park” is based; sometimes the lights are on and sometimes they are turned off – when they are turned off it happens to coincide with when the big FABs are running full tilt (one of my friends is a middle level manager in one of the bigger companies; until recently he was the man responsible for energy efficiency across several of the company’s large FABs). I would think the same thing is true in other districts which house a fair number of relatively large factories (e.g. Sanhua and Anding districts in Tainan County; Lujhu and Renwu districts in Kaohsiung County).

    But don’t take my word for it; look up Taipower’s own figures for total electricity production and consumption (if I recall correctly, they are almost identical at >220 TW hours per year), which, by itself, is a pretty strong indicator that current electricity production is insufficient.

    • Ahhh so we’re thinking about different things, IC. I live in a very industrial area myself here in the north but we don’t have that sort of problem, IIRC I heard that the Southern Science park is more of a matter of simple bad infrastructure because the DPP pushed for it too far ahead of scheduel in their haste to try and even the North / South divide thing. and end up with a park that have insufficent power / water suplly. aka it’s not that Tai power don’t produce enough energy as a whole, it’s that they don’t have enough transmitted to that area since most of the big powerplants on in the north or central Taiwan.

      Strange, I have heard that Tai power actually produce a fairly high amount of excess power, though that was said by a pro-green guy so who’s trying to make an anti-nuclear argument so obviously not exactly the most unbiased source, but at least in the north here we havn’t had any serious brownout problems since the later 90s. (power outage due to typhoon aside)

  4. “I live in a very industrial area myself here in the north but we don’t have that sort of problem.”

    Hsinchu? Irrespective of whether you have lights turned off at night (I suspect certain areas of Hsinchu might), it remains the case that street lights are by and large pathetic, i.e. they barely emit a glimmer.

    “I heard that the Southern Science park is more of a matter of simple bad infrastructure…”

    Without checking I’d think that’s very likely true.

    “I have heard that Tai power actually produce a fairly high amount of excess power…”

    Allow me to quote from the government’s own “Energy Statistical Data Book” published in 2009: “Electricity production grew from 84.1 TWh in 1989 to 229.7 TWh in 2009, an average annual increase of 5.15%… Electricity consumption went from 79.2 TWh in
    1989 to 220.8 TWh in 2009, an average annual increase of 5.26%.” That gives you an excess of 9 TW hours per year, or about 4% of production: some of which I would expect could be accounted for by improvements in energy efficiency so it’s hardly what I’d call a “fair amount”. And look at those figures for annual increases: the obvious inference is that production is being increased to keep up with increasing demand, rather than the other way around.

  5. No I live in ZhongLi, which is a city with a lot of old style industry, though with city street light isnt much of a problem obviously, I lived before in a rural county in Taoyuan and the lights always seem to be on… though it isn’t that abundent, but that place was REALLY rural anyway.

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