Taiwan’s energy policies will require guts
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.