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Referendum Likely for Proposed Taiwan LNG Import Terminal

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Environmental activists have collected enough signatures for a proposed referendum on the construction of a third LNG import terminal to virtually assure that the issue will be put to Taiwan voters August 28. Taiwan imported about 17 million tons of LNG during 2020, according to Refinitiv data, making it the fifth-largest LNG importer in the world (LNGI Mar.1'21). The referendum would pose the question: “Do you agree or disagree that the Third LNG Terminal of CPC Taiwan should be relocated from the Taoyuan City Datan coral coast and coastal waters?” Economics Affairs Minister Wang Mei-hua told reporters Feb. 26 that the third terminal was necessary to supply three new 1,000 megawatt LNG-fueled generators at the state-owned Taiwan Power Datan Power Plant (LNGI Feb.25'21). Pan Chung-cheng, of the Alliance to Save Datan Algal Reef, told Energy Intelligence that organizers had secured over 430,000 signatures, exceeding the target of 360,000, which would provide a safety margin over the legal threshold of nearly 290,000. Pan said the Alliance will submit the signatures to the Central Election Commission (CEC) for verification Mar. 16. Approval by at least 25% of Taiwan's over 19 million eligible voters, and more “yes” than “no” votes, is required for legally binding passage. Government spokesman Lo Pi-cheng said this week that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration and environmental activists and referendum supporters “share the same objective to defend the coral.” President Tsai Ing-wen's administration, Lo said, had reduced the scope of the project by 90% to 23 hectares. But Lo also said that a halt to the project could affect government plans to increase LNG use and reduce coal use. A halt would "heighten risk" of power instability. A halt would also intensify demand for transfers of power from central and southern Taiwan to the north, where the proposed third terminal, and important economic installations such as the Hsinchu Science Based Industrial Park, are located (LNGI Feb.3'21). "When the referendum campaign did not seem very promising, government officials did not make any moves to discuss the issue, but now that the campaign is succeeding, they want to hold dialogue,” the Alliance's Pan stated. "The government should hold a transparent public hearing to discuss with civic stakeholders the need for the receiving terminal and possible options if it is needed,” Pan told Energy Intelligence. The government's Lo added that “dialogue” with environmentalists did not mean that the project was open for reconsideration. However, not all lawmakers accepted that the door is closed on alternative plans. DPP Legislator Chung Chia-pin told Energy Intelligence that Taiwan urgently needs the third receiving terminal to supply imported LNG to Tatan and other power plants as it is both less polluting and more flexible than coal. Also because boosting LNG-fueled power generation is critical to achieving the goal of a nuclear-free homeland by May 2025 (LNGI Feb.23'21). However, Chung, a former deputy mayor of Pingtung County in southernmost Taiwan, also stated that the DPP government “must respect and cherish marine life and ecology and the environment as well as paying attention to economic development.” Chung said that while allowing CPC to complete and operate the terminal at Guantan, the government should strictly require the state-owned petroleum and gas company to find an alternative site, such as Taipei Port in New Taipei City, as soon as possible. "Once an alternative is developed, the LNG receiving functions can be moved away from Guantan and the risk to the coral and its associated marine life avoided,” Chung said. "The government can look for negotiating room after the endorsements for the referendum are submitted to the CEC," said Chao Chia-wei, a research fellow with National Taiwan University's Risk Society and Policy Research Center. "This problem is not so absolute," Chao told Energy Intelligence.

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