New rules curbing solar farms built on agricultural land sparked fierce debate at a packed public hearing at the Legislative Yuan yesterday, with industry representatives saying that the new restrictions would endanger President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) green energy goals, while agricultural officials emphasized the importance of protecting farmers and the environment.
The Tsai administration has set a target to generate 20 percent of the nation’s power from renewable sources by 2025, by which time it also aims to install 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power, including 6GW from rooftop solar systems and 14GW from ground-mounted solar farms.
Although rooftop solar systems are not controversial, a proposal by contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) to clear 230 hectares of reforested land in Pingtung County to build Taiwan’s largest photovoltaic solar farm has raised concerns from local residents and environmental activists.
The Council of Agriculture amended the regulations governing the land use approval process on Tuesday last week to ban solar farms built on designated agricultural or aquaculture areas and tighten rules for solar farms built on all farmland.
Under the new measures, solar farms that cover an area of more than 2 hectares have to be approved by the council, instead of local governments. Currently, local agricultural authorities can approve solar farms covering an area of less than 30 hectares.
“While we are all working toward it, 2025 is not set in stone. Maybe it will be 2026 or 2027,” Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said at the hearing. “We will not sacrifice our farmers or the environment for solar, and contrary to media reports, we will not be cutting down forests in Pingtung.”
Chen called for more rooftop installations versus ground-mounted solar farms, and encouraged the nation to move toward a more diversified approach to green energy.
“I’m shocked to hear the minister’s blatant disregard for the government’s green energy goals,” Taiwan Photovoltaic Industry Association president Sam Hong (洪傳獻) said at the hearing.
“President Tsai’s policy is in danger ... 20 percent by 2025 is possible, but only if we stop flip-flopping on the rules,” said Hong, who is also the chairman of solar module maker United Renewable Energy Co (聯合再生).
Massive investments from the industry are on the line, and much of the forest slated to be cleared in Pingtung is of poor quality, said Hong, adding that there is plenty of disused agricultural land in Taiwan that could be used for solar farms.
“There is up to 200,000 hectares of farmland in Taiwan that is not being cultivated,” Hong said. “Just give us 20,000 hectares and that is all we need.”
There is a solid demand for renewable energy from Taiwan’s technology sector. Following the examples of Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, TSMC aims to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy.
Last week, TSMC inked a 20-year deal with Orsted A/S to purchase all of the output from the energy company’s Greater Changhua 2b and 4 offshore wind farm, which is to produce 920 megawatts of power, making it the largest-ever contract of its kind in the renewable energy sector.
However, even wind power is not without controversy. More than 200 angry residents in Yunlin County gathered on Friday to protest offshore wind farms they said are too close to the shore and affect local fishermen and residents’ quality of life.
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