Taichung accuses Cabinet of "ambush" in power plant controversy

06/23/2021 04:12 PM
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The Taichung Thermal Power Plant, Taiwan
The Taichung Thermal Power Plant, Taiwan's largest coal-fired power plant. CNA file photo

Taichung, June 23 (CNA) Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) on Wednesday said the city was "ambushed" by the Cabinet's late night announcement the previous day that it has issued a permit for Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) to build two natural gas-powered units at the Taichung Thermal Power Plant.

Lu accused the central government of overriding the local government's authority to oversee construction related to the facility, one of the world's largest coal-fired plants.

"People in central Taiwan are angry," Lu said, "and I am lodging a serious protest [against this decision] on behalf of the city government and Taichung citizens."

Taichung and the state-owned utility have been at loggerheads over the pollution caused by its coal-fired generators and whether Taipower can add gas-fired generators in the plant in the future.

As one of the world's largest coal-fired plants, the Taichung Power Plant currently consists of 10 coal-fired generators.

Taipower is planning to add two natural gas-powered units to the plant by 2025 as part of a plan to decrease coal consumption to improve air pollution.

The utility said that after installing the two gas-powered units, it would decommission but not scrap four of its coal-fired generators to have them available in reserve to generate power when electricity is in short supply.

That proposal requires the city's approval, but the lack of action by Taichung after having the proposal in hand for 15 months has led the central government to try to bypass local authorities.

On Tuesday night, the Executive Yuan announced it had approved a special building construction permit for Taipower to build the new gas-fired units, and justified its decision with a technical legal argument that said the project did not need the city's approval.

The Construction and Planning Agency (CPA) under the Ministry of the Interior argued in a statement that Taichung's requirement that the Taichung Power Plant proposal be reviewed under the Urban Planning Law exceeded the authority of the Taichung City government.

It said the city was required by its "Urban Planning Law Self-Government Regulations" to establish the scope of its urban plan and procedures for carrying it out in a detailed plan that would guide the enforcement of the Taipower project.

Taichung never completed the process, however, and therefore trying to review Taipower's proposal under the law was beyond the scope allowed by the regulations, the CPA argued.

Because the city did not act in conformity with the law, the application for a special building permit was exempt from the urban design review process, the CPA said, and it decided to grant a special building construction permit to Taipower to proceed with the project.

It is unclear whether the legal argument has merit or was simply a pretext used to engage in a power play and break the deadlock in moving the project forward.

Lu on Wednesday reiterated the city's stance that it was not opposed to building gas-fired units in the plant but that before doing so Taipower should scrap at least some of its existing coal-fired generators.

Also, the new gas-powered units will be built within Taichung City limits and there was therefore no reason why the city government could not review the project before allowing the construction to begin, Lu argued.

Taichung Legal Affairs Bureau Director-General Lee Shan-chih (李善植) said, meanwhile, that even with the issuance of a special building construction permit by the CPA the project still had to be approved in accordance with the self-government regulations on urban planning.

Any construction of gas-fired generators in the Taichung Power Plant will be deemed illegal unless it has received approval from the city government, he said.

(By Hao Hsueh-ching and Joseph Yeh)

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