A $2 Billion Energy Project Threatens a 7,000 Year-Old Reef

At more than 7,000 years-old, the Datan algal reef was probably alive and humming before humans domesticated the horse.

But the rocky shoal, which stretches along Taiwan’s northern coastline and is home to an endangered coral species, is at risk from a $2 billion liquefied natural gas import project, local activists say.

A $2 Billion Energy Project Threatens a 7,000 Year-Old Reef

The venture is pitting environmental campaigners against the Tsai Ing-wen-led government, which has voiced support for the plant as it pivots toward cleaner burning fuels and renewables. Activists said Tuesday they believe they’ve now collected sufficient signatures to trigger a referendum, which could occur in August. The ballot would ask voters whether the plant’s location should be changed.

Owner CPC Corp. said in a statement Tuesday it followed legal and environmental processes for the facility’s approval and that suggested alternative plans such as moving the plant to a different location, or building a pipeline from existing import terminals could face delays. Fuel imported via the terminal will generate about 6% of Taiwan’s electricity supply, according to CPC.

If the import plant doesn’t supply gas as scheduled “there will be a huge gap in power supply of northern Taiwan” that may impact as many as 10 million people in Taipei and other northern cities, as well as Hsinchu Science Park, CPC said.

The potential referendum presents another hurdle for Taiwan’s massive energy transition strategy, which targets phasing out nuclear power by 2025 and increasing the share of natural gas to 50% of the power mix. Gas was at almost 36% of the mix in 2020, and importing more LNG is the only option for the government to meet its target.

“The government respects that referendum demonstrates public opinion,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said to reporters Tuesday. “On the other hand, we also need to ensure stability in electricity supply, which benefits the public and industries.”

Underwater photography shows there was no algae reef ecology in the construction area of Guantang industrial port, according to a statement on CPC’s website. The government has trimmed the size of the project 90% to 23 hectares to meet environmental protection guidelines, Taiwan’s Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua said in a Facebook post last month.

Construction on the LNG import terminal began in 2019, and the facility’s first storage tank is scheduled to be completed as early as October 2022, according to a spokesman for CPC. The entire project is slated for completion in 2025.

​Natural gas and LNG, once touted as bridge fuels to smooth the transition away from coal, have come under increased opposition from green groups seeking to combat climate change and ecological harm. Ireland recently scrapped two proposed LNG import terminals, while France’s Engie SA in November halted plans to buy LNG from a U.S. developer on pollution concerns.

The Taiwan venture, which would be CPC’s third LNG terminal, is scheduled to begin some supply from 2022 and will cost NT$60.1 billion ($2.2 billion) when completed, according to the company’s spokesperson Ray Chang. The project passed an evaluation by the Environmental Protection Administration in 2018.

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