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EPA: Datan Power Plant meets EIA nitrogen oxide regulations

EPA defends decision to approve Datan Power Plant nitrogen oxide emission levels, saying within regulations

Datan Power Plant located in Taoyuan City in northern Taiwan.

Datan Power Plant located in Taoyuan City in northern Taiwan. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Taipei (Taiwan News)—The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) slammed claims by a pan-blue think tank that the Datan Power Plant needs to repeat an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of pollutants released from new coal combustion generators to be installed this year, saying the approved levels were within regulations, Monday.

At a press conference a day earlier, the National Policy Foundation (國策會) questioned why the EPA backtracked on a EIA reassessment decision on Jan.4, 2017 and approved Taiwan Power Company's (Taipower) purchase of two simple cycle gas turbines on January 18, 2017.

The EPA raised the permitted nitrogen oxide emissions from a limit of 8 parts per million (ppm) to 25 ppm during the decision process, and was accused by the NPF of using an illegal procurement process by allowing the turbines to be purchased on a fast-track emergency basis instead of following normal protocols.

The simple cycle gas turbines will cost NT$9.5 billion (US$306.61 million) and are less efficient then combined-cycle power generators that use both gas and steam to generate electricity.

In response, EPA chief Yuan Shaw-ying (袁紹英) said at a Legislative Yuan meeting they approved Taipower's EIA after the company resubmitted a comprehensive plan that would reduce total nitrogen oxide emissions at the Datan Power Plant by 49.5 percent from 4,854 metric tons to 2,453 metric tons from 2014 to 2022.

The EPA's Deputy Minister Thomas Chan (詹順貴), who heads the environmental impact assessment committee noted that 11 members voted in favor of Taipower's resubmitted air pollution emission reduction plans, and only four members objected.

"At first glance, the permitted air pollutant emission levels are apparently three times higher than those allowed by environmental assessment regulations, but current emissions at coal power plants, such as the fire power plant in Taichung are much higher than 25 ppm," said Chan.

Taipower intends to lower air pollution levels by upgrading to Low-NOx Burners (LNB) or use Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to cut nitrogen oxide emissions, but there will be a two-year window during which air pollution will temporarily increase.

The state-backed Taipower also proposed to regulate air pollution emissions at power plants at Linkou, or halt operations when air pollution worsens.

The EPA and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) gave Taipower the green light to cope with the country's imminent power shortage crisis.

"Taiwan faces a power shortage and the current electricity reservoir is down to 6 percent," said Taipower Vice President Chen Chien-Yih (陳健益). "Legally, the minimal electricity reservoir requirement is 4 percent."

The new power generators that Taipower intends to install before July 2017 will generate approximately 600,000 kilowatts of electricity, added Chen.

Compared to other nations, Taiwan's power shortage is caused by a higher ratio of heavy power consumption industries, including semiconductors and cement, said a Bureau of Energy official.

New coal power generators are needed as transitional energy sources for the country gradually phases out its nuclear power plants by 2025, said Vice Minister of Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA)Yang Wei-fuu (楊偉甫).

Up to 78 percent of Taiwan's power is generated by coal-fired power plants, and only 6 percent use renewable sources of energy, lagging behind average international levels of 20 percent renewables, according to statistics compiled by Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Wu Yu-chin (吳玉琴).

The government is working on measures to raise the use of renewables to 20 percent by 2025, said Yang.

Many lawmakers were unconvinced by the EPA's U-turn on the Datan Power Plant environmental assessment, and urged it reevaluate the case.

Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) questioned whether there was a power shortage at all.

"We keep saying there is a power shortage, but are not implementing any preventive measures, there is no actual power crisis in my opinion if no actions are being made," she said.

Technically it will be difficult to install SCL during the transitional period, and the EPA is setting a terrible precedent by sacrificing the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, allowing developers to think they can bypass environmental regulations, said KMT legislator Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安).

Another KMT legislator Arthur Chen (陳宜民) questioned whether Taipower was wasting taxpayers money by insisting on building a transitional 40-meter chimney for the simple cycle gas turbines, when the final plan is to build an 80-meter chimney for combined-cycle power generators.

"The approval of the Datan Power Plant environmental assessment discredits the EPA's credibility and trustworthiness as a watchdog of air pollution," said People First Party lawmaker Chou Chen Hsiu-Hsia (周陳秀霞).