Tai­wan’s energy poli­cies will re­quire guts

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Energy pol­icy, one of the “Three E’s” in next year’s elec­tion, (the oth­ers be­ing eco­nomic and ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies) re­quires a sober­ing wake-up call and com­pre­hen­sive plan­ning. So far, though the DPP has the most com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy in­volv­ing al­ter­na­tive energy and cre­at­ing a “nu­clear-free home­land,” con­ser­va­tive el­e­ments within so­ci­ety (who con­sider them­selves ra­tio­nal­ists) con­tinue to hide be­hind the pol­i­tics of “energy se­cu­rity” and warn about the threat of rolling black­outs and price hikes to block much-needed pol­icy re­forms.

Tai­wan’s cur­rent energy pol­icy is not only in­se­cure, it is highly un­sus­tain­able. Not only is it wish­ful think­ing to be­lieve we can cre­ate a safe and con­tin­u­ously au­ton­o­mous energy sup­ply through the restart­ing of the Fourth Nu­clear Power Plant, part of our pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to bury its head in the sand, seem­ing to for­get the den­sity of our pop­u­la­tion and that its prox­im­ity to nu­clear plants could very well spread dis­as­ters that would make the Fukushima fall­out look rel­a­tively tame.

True, in­dige­nously gen­er­ated energy (less than 2 per­cent of to­tal energy sup­ply in 2014) is im­por­tant for en­sur­ing a strong econ­omy less sus­cep­ti­ble to ex­ter­nal shifts, but must this energy come from nu­clear power? In the last 20 years, Tai­wan’s to­tal energy out­put de­pen­dent on nu­clear power has fallen from 14 to 8 per­cent. Not only should this trend be cel­e­brated, it should be aug­mented with re­al­is­tic eco­nomic poli­cies to sup­port the con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ment of vi­able al­ter­na­tives.

To tran­si­tion from nu­clear power, the gov­ern­ment can learn from other coun­tries like Ger­many, Swe­den and Nor­way, which have im­ported garbage from other coun­tries in Europe to fuel their own economies. The Greater Taipei re­gion’s garbage-sort­ing prac­tices, which have al­ready en­cour­aged waste-re­duc­tion, would make the process of in­cin­er­a­tion-re­lated energy gen­er­a­tion cleaner. This con­ver­sion of trash to energy would also re­duce our need for land­fills, and could be used to in­cen­tivize other neigh­bor­ing coun­tries to sort their garbage in or­der to meet Tai­wan’s re­quire­ments for im­port.

We can­not over­look ma­jor poli­cies en­acted by the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion to move us in the right di­rec­tion. These in­clude amend­ments to the Energy Man­age­ment Act to reg­u­late and pro­mote prod­uct energy ef­fi­ciency, and up­ward ad­just­ments of pre­vi­ously frozen energy prices in elec­tric­ity, oil and nat­u­ral gas af­ter 2008. The In­dus­trial In­no­va­tion Act was also passed in 2010 to re­ward com­pa­nies for al­lo­cat­ing re­sources to re­search and de­vel­op­ment via tax breaks.

Tai­wan may be re­source-poor, but it is in­no­va­tion-rich. In­te­grated chip (IC) and light emit­ting diode (LED) panel in­dus­tries con­tinue to have a strong foun­da­tion de­spite re­cent com­pe­ti­tion from main­land China. The gov­ern­ment should not only in­crease fa­vor­able poli­cies for these sec­tors in cre­at­ing in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships, it should ac­tively work to aug­ment such sec­tors in a restruc­tur­ing of ex­ist­ing and out­dated in­dus­trial prac­tices.

While busi­nesses and cor­po­ra­tions reap ben­e­fits from energy ef­fi­ciency and in­no­va­tion, their gain must also be re­flected upon the econ­omy that sup­ports them as a whole. This is why wages (which have re­mained largely stag­nant for the past decade) across all sec­tors must rise. The con­cur­rent rise in wages will give the gov­ern­ment much more cred­i­bil­ity to grad­u­ally im­ple­ment rises in energy prices that will give the pop­u­la­tion a greater in­cen­tive to pre­vent waste­ful prac­tices. By low­er­ing de­mand through ra­tio­nal cost ad­just­ments, im­ple­ment­ing in­cen­tives for busi­nesses to in­crease re­search and de­vel­op­ment, Tai­wan can re­ally be­gin a vir­tu­ous and in­ter­link­ing set of mo­tions that will re­duce re­liance on the one hand, and cre­ate re­new­able al­ter­na­tives on the other.

These poli­cies will not only up­hold ra­tio­nal moves to energy se­cu­rity, but will not be­tray the much-needed so­cial move­ment to en­sure that our is­land re­tains its beauty for gen­er­a­tions to come.

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