Taiwan: EPA, Taichung at odds over resumption of coal power generators

The central government and Taichung authorities clashed Tuesday over whether two generators at the coal-fired Taichung Power Plant could resume operations after Taiwan’s top environmental agency revoked Taichung’s decision to shut them down. The city announced in December that it was revoking the coal-use permits for the plant’s No. 2 and No. 3 generators, effective January 2020, after contending that the power plant had violated related laws three times in 2019.

The Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) announced late Tuesday, however, that it was overturning the city’s decision because it was based on a misstatement of the facts and a lack of just cause. Taichung and central Taiwan have been plagued by serious air pollution for many years, with the coal-fired plant and its 10 generators thought to be one of the main culprits, and successive city administrations have tried to limit the plant’s emissions. But the EPA announced its decision in response to a request by state-owned Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) to have Taichung’s actions reversed. In explaining the move, which will allow the two generators to resume normal operations, the EPA said Taichung originally stipulated that the power plant could use up to 21 million metric tons of coal a year (without specifying when that limit was set).

In November 2017, Taichung tightened the plant’s annual coal use to either no more than 16 million metric tons a year or to 40 percent less than the original limit (21 million metric tons) in four years, according to an EPA statement. Yet when Taichung fined the power plant three times in 2019, the power plant was not found to be exceeding the maximum annual coal use limit set by the city government, the EPA statement said. The plant was fined for using 11.91 million, 12.17 million and 12.31 million metric tons of coal during the three times it was fined, none of them exceeding the 16 million metric ton limit or even the 40 percent reduction limit of 12.6 metric tons a year, the EPA said.

Consequently, the EPA argued that Taichung’s decision to revoke the permits was not valid and that it had no other choice but to overturn it or the government could face legal consequences and potential compensation claims from Taipower. Taichung authorities were unhappy with the EPA’s decisions, saying that an agency that should be responsible for protecting the environment had now decided to stand by the polluter. The city’s Legal Affairs Bureau said in a statement that the EPA’s decision was based on Taipower’s “one-sided story” without consulting the city government first. It also argued that the EPA did not follow proper procedures, saying it should have gone through the Executive Yuan first before overturning the city’s decision to revoke the generators’ permits and accused the EPA of trampling on the city’s jurisdiction.

Wu Chih-chao, head of Taichung’s Environmental Protection Bureau, also expressed deep regret over the EPA’s decision, saying his bureau decided to punish the power plant to protect the health of its citizens. Meanwhile, Taipower said it respected the EPA’s decision, but said the two generators will not immediately resume operations because the company needs to run through checks first before bringing them online. Taipower also said it will continue to make improvements to reduce its coal consumption for environmental reasons and work closely with the city government over the issue. It said it will only allow a maximum seven of its 10 generators at the plant to operate at the same time starting in October, the beginning of the annual air pollution season, as opposed to the previous eight.