Today Unredacted sat down for a Q and A with Chen Chung-Hsien, director of the Energy Technology Division at the Bureau of Energy. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.
UNREDACTED: Thanks for taking the time, Director Chen. I know you’re a busy man. I know from our calls you always seem to be in a meeting.
CHEN: You should call me on the weekends. I can probably give more time to you then.
UNREDACTED: Oh, I couldn’t possibly disturb you on the weekends.
CHEN: Why not? I’ll be at the office. But I get to wear my shorts. The last time I took any time off was to get my vaccines. It was a few hours of rest. Otherwise, there is simply too much work to get through.
UNREDACTED: It seems that every question I have regarding Taiwan’s offshore wind development for the government from COVID procedures to floating development eventually gets back to you. How many staff members do you have to help you take care of the offshore wind industry, and which other government bodies are involved?
CHEN: At the Bureau of Energy our division has four people. We take care of Offshore Wind development and other energy technology besides.
UNREDACTED: That doesn’t seem like a lot of staff for the size of the industry.
CHEN: If you had questions that relate to the IRP (Industrial Relevance Plan), I might refer you to the Industrial Development Bureau. We get support from non-governmental research organizations like ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute). They research offshore wind development in other countries and give us policy recommendations. In the Executive Yuan, Vice Premier Shen Jong-chin is the point-person. He holds weekly meetings alternating between the supply chain and the developers. That’s an opportunity to address industry concerns and any cross-departmental issues that comes up. Within the MOEA (Ministry of Economic Affairs), Deputy Minister Tseng Wen-Sheng is familiar with the industry from the energy production side and Deputy Minister Lin Chuan-Neng focuses on the supply chain side.
However, we really strive to take care of as many issues within the BOE as possible. When industry comes to us with issues, we always try to see if they can be resolved of within our existing system. We’ll have several internal meetings before kicking it up to the next level. We encourage the stakeholders to come together and consolidate their issues so that we can address them as a category rather than case-by-case. Groups like TOWIA (Taiwan Offshore Wind Industry Organization) are helpful in this respect.
Our goal is to provide clarity to the industry. A yes or a no. We understand that lack of clarity costs the industry a lot of money, and we strive to bring together the different part of the government to give a comprehensive solution.
UNREDACTED: Yet the Liwei project was cancelled because of an objection from Civil Aeronautics Administration.
CHEN: Indeed. That project was given a conditional approval pending the Civil Aeronautics Administration’s concerns being addressed. That did not happen. Conditional approvals are bad for the industry. This is why for Round 3 we’ve moved on to the recordation process. We gather all the relevant government departments around the table and get their approval before proceeding with the project.
UNREDACTED: Is there any reason why the Bureau of Energy can’t be more transparent with the recordation process? Currently it’s super difficult to know who has them, and projects are under the radar until the Environmental Impact Assessment process.
CHEN: The Bureau of Energy has a lot of information on all the projects both proposed and under way in Taiwan, but it is not our place to reveal everything we know. The developers might have their reasons for withholding announcement. After all, the bidding process for some of the sites are very competitive.
UNREDACTED: This raises another question I had. I just came back from a trip to the United States where offshore wind development rights for sites are getting auctioned off at record sums. Why didn’t Taiwan auction off pre-determined sites rather than putting it on the developers to select and get approval for them? I notice developers competing for the same site still all need to get their own EIAs. That seems inefficient.
CHEN: The way the US did it, like in Japan or many European countries, the government took a much more intensive role in the planning and the research as well as resolving concerns from stakeholders such as fishers. Taking charge like this is a lot of work, and given the lower efficiency of governments, it would have taken a long time, perhaps five years. In Taiwan we flipped the equation. We tell you where not to go. Developers can then select a site that meets with both official requirements and their own needs.
UNREDACTED: You mentioned TOWIA earlier as an example of an industry group. But only developers can be members of TOWIA. What about other members of the industry, such as marine contractors or OEMs?
CHEN: We will talk to all the stakeholders, not just the developers. We are in communication with supply chain players. Even national offices. Rather than have the incorrect information floating around, we prefer having a conversation. Our door is open.
UNREDACTED: Localization is a hot topic. My understanding is that the goal is to export.
CHEN: This is not strictly speaking why we first decided we must localize the wind turbine supply chain. It would be unacceptable to have thousands of wind turbine generators in Taiwan without a domestic supply chain for components for security reasons. But in the process of establishing a local supply chain, we heard from the manufacturers that the Taiwanese market is not big enough to sustain their operations and they will need to export to the wider Asian market for their business to make sense.
UNREDACTED: So if I understand correctly, even without the benefits of creating a new export industry, Taiwan would still insist on the domestic production of certain components to assure supply?
CHEN: Those wind farms will be in operation for the next 20 years. We want to ensure the supply chain is secure.
UNREDACTED: Is it working?
CHEN: You went down to the Tienli blade factory yourself. Seeing is believing.
UNREDACTED: How do you see the current projects under construction in Taiwan?
CHEN: There’s concern about the Yunlin offshore wind farm because of vessel availability issues. But the other three are going well. Even with Yunlin, we are giving the developers a lot of pressure to complete this year.
UNREDACTED: Yet a vessel have already been contracted to do turbine installation next year on Yunlin. Doesn’t that imply construction will not be complete this season?
CHEN: The developers say they cannot put all their eggs in one basket, so they need a backup in case things don’t work out like we hope. We accept the need to mitigate risks. However, it is only May. We cannot allow them to give up when there is still this much of the season to go.
UNREDACTED: Have they been fined for the project being already delayed?
CHEN: Not yet. We can fine them, but collecting a fine is not what we want. What we want is for the wind farm to be complete this year.
UNREDACTED: I’m glad that we are not having a repeat of last year’s season, which was so horribly disrupted by COVID. But there appears to be plenty of obstacles in the way still.
CHEN: Of course there are obstacles, but at least we know which way we are going. Compared to the early days of offshore wind development in Taiwan, what we are facing is minor. Okay, maybe COVID was rather major, but a very unusual event. But back in the day when we got started in 2012, it was so difficult because we didn’t even know which way to go. We were facing brutal dissent. Compared to those days, the hardest part is over.
UNREDACTED: I was under the impression that Taiwan’s offshore wind development kicked off in 2016 when President Tsai took power.
CHEN: She gave the program tremendous backing, but the initial demo was announced in 2012. Back then, we were facing constant criticism and doubt. What if there’s an earthquake? What if there’s a typhoon? Nobody knows. “Demo” is a nice way of putting it, but the developers of the first projects were really lab rats. You have to remember back then even Europe was awaiting technical validation. But I’m glad we managed to catch this wave and found success. Taiwan is currently the largest offshore wind market in Asia though other countries are starting ambitious developments.
UNREDACTED: You mean outside of China.
CHEN: Are the Chinese offshore wind farms really offshore? Many of them are constructed in the tidal zone using onshore techniques. Of course, due to ecological concerns wind farms are out of the question in Taiwan.
UNREDACTED: What about after President Tsai’s administration? We all know the offshore wind industry is “her baby”. Will the political support be there under a different president and/or a different party?
CHEN: That’s not a worry for two reasons. First of all, the Renewable Energy Development Act is law. Secondly, the world has come to a consensus that we must decarbonize. Taiwan’s manufacturers will not be able to retain their markets if they don’t have access to green energy. There is no going back for offshore wind development in Taiwan.