LNG terminal — controversial helping hand in green revolution
The implementation of the CPC Corporation’s third terminal of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Taoyuan, Taiwan has been met with public opposition since its approval by the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government back in 2018. Until today, protests still mar proceedings, with local environmentalists widely criticising the DPP for not prioritising the threat to marine ecosystems off shore.
This week the dispute has fired up yet again, with opposition legislators of the Kuomintang (KMT) urging the government to halt the project’s construction after a referendum petition, initiated by the Algal Reefs Alliance last year, succeeded in raising upwards of 640,000 signatures (as of March 10th 2021). The Algal Reefs Alliance convenor, Pan Chong-Cheng (潘忠政), states that it is “against using nuclear power and for reducing coal burning and saving the algae reef simultaneously”, advocating for the LNG terminal to be relocated rather than shut down. Economic Affairs Minister Wang Mei-Hua (王美花) stated that while the government was willing to work with environmental groups to find a solution to the ecological threat, stopping the project from going ahead would force the nation to use 5 million more metric tons of coal a year, a statement some protesters considered a threat.
It has been calculated by the Executive Yuan that any delay to the proposed LNG terminal would mean an annual energy shortfall of 13.7 billion kilowatt-hours. If the CPC was to relocate the terminal further up the coast to Taipei Port, another EIA would likely need to be conducted, potentially taking years to complete. As of now, with a lack of alternative options to LNG, the energy shortfall would be met by burning coal, worsening severe air pollution that already causes health problems across the country, particularly in central and southern Taiwan.
When the DPP government took power back in 2016, its energy policy was to phase out nuclear entirely, cut coal usage by 15% and increase renewable generation to 20% by 2025. Last year alone, Taiwan was still importing 35 million metric tons of coal, accounting for as much as 45% of all energy production. The remaining percentage was made up with 35.7% LNG, 1.52% fuel oil and just 5.4% renewable energy, according to figures released by the Bureau of Energy (BOE).
To make good on its election promises, the DPP still requires a high dependence on fossil fuels, primarily LNG, a relatively clean burning fossil fuel, which lies controversially at the heart of achieving energy goals as the only currently feasible alternative to coal-powered energy, in terms of both affordability and infrastructure. While the environmentalist argument insists on a full phase out of fossil fuels to keep global warming under 2° Celsius, doing so in five years would be an impossible undertaking and certainly one in which the renewables industry could not tackle alone.
The ebb and flow of wind energy
Having an understanding of how renewable energy such as wind power operates helps give a more sympathetic view towards the DPP’s strategy. The Taiwanese government is committed to making the switch from fossil fuels to renewables, outlined in their simple campaign slogan “Promote green energy, increase natural gas, reduce coal-fired energy and achieve nuclear free”, but realities in energy supply cannot be ignored.
Renewable energy is not a constant, reliable means of energy production. As well as there being daily and seasonal factors to wind and solar energy production, the industry currently lacks affordable technology to store its supply. What’s more is that when the grid experiences the highest levels of user demand — in the peak of summer when citizens rely heavily on air conditioning, for example — wind generation is extremely limited. And, though wind farms do become more productive at night, it’s often too late to provide for the surge in demand when citizens return home to cook, do laundry and watch TV.
In accounting for wind energy’s intermittency then, the grid needs an alternative way to fulfil energy demands and ensure citizens are not left without power. Compared to coal, liquefied natural gas burns cleaner and more efficiently, and requires a significantly shorter amount of time to meet sudden demand, if stocks are available. Therefore, the bigger the nation’s reliance on renewables, the bigger the need for LNG to be available to fill the gap in supply. Until green alternatives such as hydrogen can be made more affordable and better storage technology is developed, LNG is seen as the only feasible option.
Mitigating environmental damage
The government utilises a three-pronged approach when addressing environmental concerns, which is; avoid, mitigate and, finally, compensate. To get its EIA approved by the government back in 2018, the CPC resolved to minimise potential environmental impact by shrinking the proposed site by 90% (to just 23 hectares) and pushing the planned site 200 metres up the coast away from a protected reef, a move which was described by Executive Yuan spokesman Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成) as necessary to balance environmental protection and energy needs.
The new LNG terminal therefore is seen as a necessary evil in achieving the DPP’s mission to reject nuclear and drive down dirty coal reliance. Despite committing to boost overall offshore wind power capacity by 10 gigawatts over the next ten years (and thereby becoming the most sought-after renewable energy market across Asia), Taiwan also must accept the impossibility of energy demand being met solely by this fledgling industry.