In a recent piece on Taiwan’s energy needs, the Wall Street Journal criticized Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen for her “fanciful visions” of replacing nuclear power with expensive and unreliable renewables. We are glad the paper has followed the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang’s, lead in demanding that Tsai provide Taiwan’s voters with clarity on her energy policies. Like many of Tsai’s policy ideas, when clarity is needed, there is a power outage.
Taiwan has almost zero energy endowment and imports about 98 percent of its consumption. Renewables such as solar, biomass and hydropower provide limited energy at high prices. Among imports, approximately eight percent is nuclear fuel and more than 90 percent are fossil fuels. Not surprisingly, most of our oil and gas is imported from the Middle East at tremendous cost and risk.
Tsai held numerous senior government positions between 1992 and 2008, serving as a legislator, minister and vice premier. During that time she supported nuclear before she was against it, although her party now labels the Wall Street Journal as “disingenuous” for pointing out her shifting position. Her party further offers the odd excuse that Tsai was “duty-bound to implement the decisions made by the KMT-dominated legislature.” We would be happy to submit a lengthy list of policies approved by our parliament, the Legislative Yuan, during that period which Tsai and the DPP government refused to implement.
In any event, as the DPP’s mayoral candidate in New Taipei City (home to two of Taiwan’s three operating nuclear power plants) in 2010, Tsai opposed nuclear, and as the DPP’s presidential candidate in 2012, she said Taiwan can phase out nuclear via renewables and energy efficiency. She lost both elections.
The Wall Street Journal also noted that Tsai’s DPP proposes to ban coal in cities and counties where it holds executive office. The DPP has also repeatedly sought, and failed, to hold referenda to eliminate nuclear power. These policies ignore our manufacturing base’s need for a dependable energy supply.
Indeed, its reliance on fossil fuels is dangerous to Taiwan’s economic and environmental security. CO2 emissions per capita nearly doubled between 1990 and 2013, though this growth is modest compared to some of our neighbors and the velocity has recently slowed. Although our diplomatic isolation prevents formal accession to international climate change agreements, the current Kuomintang government and parliament has sought to implement emissions reduction strategies. On June 15 this year the Legislative Yuan, in which the Kuomintang holds a majority and our presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu is deputy speaker, passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act. The act targets a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below the 2005 level by 2050. The act had bipartisan support and was praised by DPP legislators as a “historic point in Taiwan’s fight against climate change.” This law, though imperfect, is a positive unilateral step to reduce CO2 emissions.
With many years of legislative experience, Hung has a realistic understanding of energy policy. She proposes to gradually reduce the use of nuclear energy, and (despite inevitable public opposition) set reasonable electricity rates that truly reflect costs of production. However, she is forthright with voters when she states that it is impossible to entirely replace nuclear or coal-fired energy with green energy.
In this election cycle, Tsai has “renewed” her calls for the same energy policies she previously campaigned on, policies that will leave our economy and security vulnerable to geopolitical events beyond our control. We hope she will instead shed light on a more realistic energy policy for the voters to consider.
Eric Huang is Assistant Director of International Affairs for the Hung Hsiu-chu presidential campaign.