The Taiwan experience


Merging Environmental Protection and Development

(This is the full article I submitted to Sun.Star Cebu for today’s issue. An edited version was published)

Coal plants and incinerators had been described in Cebu as dirty technology that seriously threatens the environment and health of the local population. I had this mindset when I went with a group of Cebuano journalists to a three-day tour in Taiwan over the weekend. This frame of mind set me up for a surprise.

“The river decades before … very polluted. Smell very bad,” said our gracious host Feng-In Hong of Formosa Heavy Industries (FHI) while we waited for another sumptuous Chinese lunch. We were enjoying a 360-degree view of the city inside a revolving restaurant surprisingly on top of a 30-story smoke tower of Taipei City’s garbage dump-incinerator-cum-power plant.

We toured the different facilities inside the Wha-Ya Power Plant which runs using the circulating fluidized bed technology for coal fired power plants.

We toured the different facilities inside the Wha-Ya Power Plant which runs using the circulating fluidized bed technology for coal fired power plants.

I watched two kayaks leisurely negotiating through the nearby Keelung River. At the river bank, hundreds of bikers pedaled their way along a cemented bike lane below the skyway that connected to the Taipei Interchange. Inside the Peilou Incinerator compound run by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), I saw a children’s playground sitting just a few yards away from several dozens of parked garbage compactor trucks that brought tons of trash from the city to an incinerator that surprisingly produced additional electricity

Decades ago in Cebu, I remembered expressing support for a campaign to stop the operation of an incinerator at the Inayawan dumpsite. We feared the incinerator would worsen the pollution around the area. It threatened the health of Cebuanos. The campaign succeeded in convincing Mayor Tomas Osmeña from pushing with the operation of the incinerator that could have lengthened the life of Cebu City’s dump though, even decades after, the supposed sanitary landfill emits stench so foul that it now threatens to drive away investors from the mayor’s pet project, the South Reclamation Project (SRP).

Taiwan, however, enjoys a happier conclusion to its environmental insight after industrial and urban development brought serious pollution to the river water in the 1970s. Residents along the Keelung River then considered the Keelung River not only as a source of floods in the summer. It let loose stench from agricultural and industrial wastewater all year round.

But the view we could plainly see from the incinerator-power plant tower that fine Saturday noon told us this is the case not anymore. The visit capped a tour of three power plants that showed us how the Taiwanese succeeded in merging environmental protection, public health, and industrial development.

No, the two other power plants we toured a day before did not use the so-called clean energy sources such as wind or solar power.

The 300MW Jin-Shin power plant of the Formosa group located a few minutes drive from the international airport in Taoyuan City used pulverized coal technology. The technology, said Miren Facultad of Global Business Power Corp., is slightly older than the modern circulating fluidized bed technology the company is using in the power plants being constructed in Sangi Toledo City here in Cebu.

Surprisingly, the Jin-Shin power plant operated not in an isolated area away from the city proper. It sat just a stone’s throw away from the Tai Shopping Plaza.

“No residents sick (from) plant emissions,” said the Chinese spokesman who explained in a difficult to follow broken English the technical processes in minimizing emissions to levels well below government standards.

Jovy Y. Manrique, a Filipino representative of FHI, helped him further clarify some points in the face of questions fired by hardnosed Cebuano journalists like Sun.Star editor in chief Pachico A. Seares and the hard-hitting Bobby Nalzaro of GMA 7, dySS, Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita. The group also included The Freeman editor in chief Jerry Tundag, columnist Bobit Avila of The Freeman and Skycable, Banat News associate editor John Rey Saavedra, Superbalita and dyHP’s Ruphil Banioc, columnist Job Tabada of Cebu Daily News, and The Freeman’s Rene Borromeo.

Though The Freeman’s Jerry Tundag recalled that the Asia Pacific Energy Corporation (APEC) plant in Mabalacat, Pampanga had cleaner plant floors, I could not help marvel at how Taiwanese technology kept pulverized coal from producing emissions at acceptable levels. Thick emissions could have already driven local environmental groups into frenzied protests and attracted attention from strict environmental agencies. Though under an authoritarian government, the Republic of China or Taiwan is one country that has an active environmental movement and a government system that caught and held an ex-president for corruption.

The next plant we visited was more relevant to us Cebuanos. The bigger Hwa-Ya Power Plant, located also inside the Hwa-Ya Technology Park in Kueishan Tao Yuan County, uses the modern circulating fluidized bed technology. This technology is the one used in the three coal-fired power plants being constructed by the Global Business Power Corp. in Sangi, Toledo City. This is also the same technology being used by the two power plants being built by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) in Naga, Cebu.

Bobit Avila, who is more abreast in technology than most of us, noted that the Hwa-Ya plant sits across a factory that produces silicon wafer. Manufacturing this industrial product needs extra clean environment, he noted.

The group of journalists could not keep themselves from comparing what they saw in Taiwan with what we have now in the Philippines. Way back in the 1950s, our country was industrially way ahead of Taiwan. After several generations however, the Taiwanese surged ahead leaving us way behind.

For a country of only 23 million, power demand has grown rapidly over the past quarter century in Taiwan in step with the advance of the economy. According to William Chandler of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, installed capacity reached 38,334 megawatts in 2000. Coal accounts for about two-fifths of total generation. Most coal fuels are imported.

This powers an industrial complex with an economic output roughly US$13,000 of GDP per capita, placing it on a par with European countries like Greece, Portugal, and Spain. Energy consumption, at 155 gigajoules (GJ) per capita, is close to the average per capita energy use in Western Europe. Taiwan’s electric power demand, at almost 7,900 kWh per person per year, is higher than in Germany and almost two-thirds that in the United States.

Compare this with the Philippines populated by some 80 million Filipinos that had only 15,937 MW installed capacity in 2007.

Our Taiwan experience taught us that the Taiwanese had somehow solved the seeming conflict between industrial growth and environmental protection. Technology has successfully protected the Taiwanese from the health hazards of heavy industry including the use of coal.

We left Taiwan Sunday afternoon thinking about our country and the power plants being built in Cebu. We returned to the Philippines convinced that environmental protection, ensuring health, and coal-fired plants could co-exist.

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