Solar Power in Taiwan

In late 2016, the central government of Taiwan announced a major green-energy policy initiative to build thousands of hectares of new solar panels along the western coast. This initiative would be a major component of Taiwan’s goal to be free of nuclear power by 2025. A two-year pilot project would add 230 MW of solar power on 770 hectares of government-owned saltpans, even though some of these have been designated “Wetlands of National Importance” under Taiwan law and provide important habitat for the Black-faced Spoonbill (BFS). Other government policies are encouraging investors, including Google, to build solar farms on aquaculture ponds (fish-farms), which already support local jobs and migratory wildlife. (Link to article about Google’s proposed investment.) This is another example of a “conflict of greens” — renewable energy vs. existing environmental and social values.

A coalition of allies — SAVE International; researchers at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB); and the Black-faced Spoonbill Association (BFSA), Tainan Wild Bird Society, Citizen of the Earth, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — has been calling attention to the drawbacks in siting solar farms on coastal wetlands, and proposing alternative locations and technologies.

In SAVE’s view, the pressure in Taiwan to meet the 2025 nuclear-free goal by building flat-panel solar farms has co-opted the wise-use planning mandated by Taiwan’s Wetlands Conservation Act (2013), reversing conservation goals, running roughshod over local wise-use planning, and ignoring good science. The central government is proposing more solar farms in BFS habitat in Chigu and Jiading, the sites of previous UCB research in 2014 and 2015. Fish-farmers who rent their ponds are at risk of losing their leases, because the landowners are negotiating more lucrative deals with companies to install solar farms.

In spring 2017, graduate researchers in UCB’s Environmental Planning studio made three proposals that reconciled the need for renewable energy with protecting coastal habitat at Budai, Chigu, and elsewhere in Chiayi County.

SAVE founders Randy Hester and Marcia McNally presented the proposals to two Taiwan audiences in May 2017: local environmentalists, birders, and experts in renewable energy; and then central government officials (energy, land use, wildlife, development, transportation, agriculture). Even though the government officials promised to work with SAVE, they plowed ahead with a proposal to locate the first solar farm in the middle of one of the South Budai salt ponds, which are valuable BFS habitat. The Chinese Wild Bird Society and some local environmentalists agreed to the plan and heralded it as a wise compromise, but SAVE and our scientist allies disagreed.

At a conference in September 2017 hosted by the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), members of the SAVE Executive Committee joined a working group with energy experts to examine various “conflicts of greens”, especially this situation in Taiwan. The group is drafting a framework that can facilitate least-conflict decision-making in the deployment and operation of renewable energy facilities. The group is testing this framework on case studies in California and Hawaii (USA), South Korea, and Taiwan. The Taiwan team is developing an additional framework for locating solar farms according to least-conflict principles, in sites that are not valuable habitat.

Additional new conditions include a possibility of collaboration between NCKU and Tai Sugar, a major land owner of fallow agricultural land near the wetlands in Chigu. Further, the nearby Taijiang National Park is looking to expand its boundaries and as such may become a player in the government’s energy policy.

Other groups of graduate researchers at UCB’s Environmental Planning studio revisited the issue of solar power in Taiwan in March 2018, and again in February 2019.

Residents in the Chigu area have organized and have been protesting the government’s proposal to build solar farms on the fishponds where they work. Due to the solar panel project, rent on the fishponds has risen to the point where many fishermen can no longer afford it. They are also appealing to the government to avoid the BFS habitat when siting solar farms.

Click here (link) to see the coverage by News & Market (in Chinese) about the protests on July 11, 2018. In one photo, you can see a child holding a sign that reads, “My father wants to cultivate fish and clams, not solar panels.”

In their protest, the Chigu locals made 6 demands (English translations by SAVE’s allies in Taiwan):
1. Starting from the protection of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, the green energy facility must exclude the Black-faced Spoonbill foraging area.
2. Appeal to the Council of Agriculture (COA) to focus on national conservation, and ensure that renewable energy development does not occur on aquaculture lands without groundwater pumping.
3. Appeal to the COA for planning to increase incentives for renewable energy development on aquaculture lands where intensive groundwater pumping occurs, in order to reduce subsidence and facilitate the rehabilitation of the countryside.
4. Amend the Coastal Zone Management Act so Chigu coastal aquaculture areas (which are non-urban land types belonging to the “seaside roads” zone) are not allowed to apply for “use of land change” in specific areas or send letters to relevant departments, in order to avoid the opportunistic attitude of the solar industry.
5. The site planned to be developed with solar shall be subject to the consent of the owner of the adjacent land in order to comply with the provisions of Article 27 of the Green Energy Regulations, which say that development shall not affect the agricultural use and production of the land.
6. When a project related to solar electricity applies to the government to consider their plan, the local government will hold a briefing/community meeting with the residents of the administrative area to ensure that local residents have a mechanism for participation.

For the latest developments on this issue, please see SAVE’s 2019 newsletter, Spoonbills Speak.