United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 2, 2016
Executive Summary: Temperatures are soaring. Domestic power consumption is setting new records. Taiwan's reserve transfer capacity rate has plummeted to 1.64%, the lowest point in a decade. The rate is fast approaching the threshold for compulsory power rationing. Roy S. Lee, the new Minister of Economic Affairs, recently promised the business community "No power shortages for the next two years”. He quickly corrected himself, saying "We cannot guarantee that there will be no power shortages". This abrupt about face reveal that Lee's boasts bear no resemblance to reality.
Temperatures are soaring. Domestic power consumption is setting new records. Taiwan's reserve transfer capacity rate has plummeted to 1.64%, the lowest point in a decade. The rate is fast approaching the threshold for compulsory power rationing. Roy S. Lee, the new Minister of Economic Affairs, recently promised the business community "No power shortages for the next two years”. He quickly corrected himself, saying "We cannot guarantee that there will be no power shortages". This abrupt about face reveal that Lee's boasts bear no resemblance to reality.
Upon his appointment, Roy S. Lee was asked about the mothballing of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. Lee was supremely confident. He said that by 2025, we will have a nuclear-free homeland. "There is no room for discussion". Construction on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant will cease. The Number One, Two, and Three Nuclear Power Plants will not be expanded. The general election showed that a nuclear-free homeland is what the public wants. Not everyone agrees, he said, but the signal is clear. He also said that by September 2025, the power grid and required generating capacity will be complete. The percentage of energy derived from renewable energy sources will approach 20%.
Roy S. Lee is committed to a nuclear-free homeland. Is he correct? Perhaps. But his attitude and rationale are wrong. First, he misinterprets the election results. The January elections showed that most voters support the ruling party. But they do not mean everyone agrees with every one of Tsai Ing-wen's policies. Still less do they mean that the voters have given Tsai Ing-wen carte blanche. Second, his timetable is wrong. Elections are held every four years. Those in power may declare their long-term goals. But even if Tsai Ing-wen wins a second term, she can remain in office only until 2024. So what is she up to? Is she providing herself with an escape hatch? Is she attempting to pass the buck to her successor? Third, his expectations are too high. Achieving a nuclear-free homeland by 2025 might be possible with real progress. But the new government is merely shouting slogans. It has no concrete real plan to achieve its goals. Its ideals are empty talk.
When the Democratic Progressive Party was out of power, it exploited the anti-nuclear and nuclear-free homeland issues. It uses them as part of its "I love Taiwan" rhetoric, and did in fact enjoy widespread support. The DPP painted a pretty picture of the future. But it never explained how it would realize these visions. It never offered any plans by which it would meet the need for generating capacity. Its "green energy" initiative has never been anything more than hot air. It has simply assumed it could achieve its objectives, without ever bothering to formulate a concrete plan of attack. When the DPP was in the opposition, people may not have minded its pie in the sky promises. But the DPP is now the ruling party, and its Minister of Economic Affairs still thinks he can use the old playbook. He thinks he need not formulate and implement a detailed plan. One really has to wonder. Does the DPP think a nuclear-free homeland going to fall out of the sky?
In early May, Roy S. Lee, promised no power shortages within two years. By late May, he had taken back his words, and reneged on his "no shortages" guarantee. A minister's "guarantee" had a shelf life of less than a month before turning rancid. How sad is that? If the temperature rises even further, Taipower will be forced to ration power. In addition to eating crow, Roy S. Lee will have to reverse himself on the mothballing and shutdown of nuclear power plants. Otherwise maintaining a normal power supply will be impossible.
The Tsai government has embarrassed itself repeatedly with its policy flip-flops on one issue after another. That it is reneging on its promise of "no power rationing" probably come as no surprise. But once power rationing and brownouts become a reality, once peoples' air-conditioning units die in the middle of a long hot summer, once their personal computer screens go black without warning, once Taipower is forced to purchase energy at exorbitant prices to meet demand during emergencies, the public will realize the price they have paid for the DPP's reckless energy policy. By then, they will have gotten a taste of the DPP's overhyped "nuclear-free homeland". By then, they will realize the price they are paying because green camp county and municipal governments oppose local thermal power plants. By then everyone will know the truth.
No one wants brownouts or power rationing. Will the recent Taipower reduction in reserve transfer capacity wake up the new government? Will it force the new government to behave more more pragmatically, and revise its energy policy? If so, perhaps it was a good thing. In fact, we have yet to see Roy S. Lee contribute anything to economic growth. His previous remarks about a nuclear-free homeland by 2025, with "no room for discussion" reveal more than lop-sided economic decision-making. They reveal arrogance and bigotry. A general election victory means qualified voter support. Roy S. Lee inflated that support in his own mind, then declared "There is no room for discussion". What sort of high-handed attitude is that? The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant cost over 200 billion dollars to construct. It is currently mothballed. If the DPP wants to dismantle it, the people deserve a referendum.
We would remind Roy S. Lee that economic growth and the normalization of generating capacity must precede the elimination of nuclear power generation. Only that is consistent with the interests of the Tsai government and its larger policy objectives.