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MOEA pitches revised LNG terminal plan ahead of assessment

2021-10-13
Focus Taiwan
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An aerial view of the infrastructure that has been built for the project. Photo courtesy of CPC Corp.
An aerial view of the infrastructure that has been built for the project. Photo courtesy of CPC Corp.

Taipei, Oct. 12 (CNA) The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) on Tuesday pitched its proposal to relocate a controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal construction plan, just hours before an environmental impact assessment meeting was to look into its feasibility.

Deputy Economics Minister Tseng Wen-sheng (曾文生) said at a press conference that scientific evidence has shown that the revised plan will be much friendlier to the environment, and argued that it should be allowed to proceed.

The government first proposed building the LNG terminal within 750 meters of the Taoyuan coast, but environmentalists opposed the plan, arguing that it would damage a coastal algal reef located at the planned construction site.

The Rescue Datan's Algal Reefs Alliance said the reef, which extends 27 kilometers along the coast, took at least 5,000 years to form and is the largest of its kind in the world.

The reef also has rich biodiversity and is home to endangered coral species, polycyathus chaishanensis, and hammerhead sharks that are listed on the IUCN Red List of endangered species.

At first, the government ignored the criticism, but it later devised a plan to push the original location of the terminal 455 meters farther away from the coast as the alliance got the endorsements necessary to put the issue to a national referendum.

On Tuesday, Tseng estimated that by locating the terminal site 1.2 kilometers out to sea, it would affect only about 2 percent of the seabed, without saying how much of the seabed the original terminal construction plan would have affected as a point of comparison.

Chang Jui-tsung (張瑞宗), a spokesman for state-owned oil refiner CPC Corp. that is responsible for the LNG terminal project, later told CNA that the original and revised projects were different in nature, making it impossible to compare their impact on the seabed.

Rejecting the argument of some opponents of the plan that the relocation is not economically viable because the region is known for choppy seas, Tseng said the new terminal can actually allow LNG marine transportation an average of 341.9 days per year.

The design of the terminal will also feature eco-friendly techniques that boosts the velocity of water and reduces sand deposition, making the project even more favorable to the reef than existing conditions, Tseng contended.

The official was also questioned about the timing of his pitch Tuesday, coming just before an environmental assessment meeting.

Tseng said the press conference simply reflected the ministry's "obligation to communicate with the public about the project."

The government has said the relocation of the LNG terminal is a compromise that would push completion of the project back by two and a half years to 2025 and cost an additional NT$15 billion (US$540 million) to NT$75 billion.

The Datan natural gas terminal project is thought to be crucial for the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration's energy policy to achieve an energy mix for Taiwan's electricity generation of 50 percent natural gas, 30 percent coal and 20 percent renewables by 2025 and phase out nuclear power.

According to the Bureau of Energy, of the 280,100 gigawatt hours of electricity generated in Taiwan in 2020, 44.9 percent was from coal, down 1 percentage point from 2019, 35.7 percent was from natural gas, 11.2 percent was from nuclear power, 5.5 percent was from renewables and 1.6 percent was from oil-fired plants.

If the project were to be voted down, it would derail the DPP administration's plan to expand the use of natural gas to generate electricity and reduce the use of coal, because it needs the additional natural gas storage capacity.

In response to the ministry's pitch, Rescue Datan's Algal Reefs Alliance convener Pan Chong-cheng (潘忠政), who initiated the referendum, urged the environmental assessment committee members to review the case professionally and not bow to government pressure.

Pan was skeptical that moving the location by 455 meters would make any difference scientifically, and charged that the press conference and the ministry's intensive publicity campaign recently were meant to influence committee members so that the revised project could be passed before the December referendum vote.

After more than three hours of discussion on Tuesday, the Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee requested that CPC supplement documents related to algal reef growth improvement and potential restoration plans pending further review.

The referendum will ask voters whether they agree that the LNG terminal should be relocated from its planned site near the algal reef coast of Datan and its surrounding waters.

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