【明報專訊】THE GOVERNMENT has put forward two options in a public consultation exercise on the fuel mix for electricity generation over the next ten years. One option is to purchase directly from the China Southern Power Grid (CSG) an amount of electricity sufficient for 30 percent of Hong Kong's electricity consumption. This would mean breaking the monopoly of the electricity business held by CLP Holdings and HK Electric.
In its attempt to improve air quality, the government wants to cut pollutant emissions from power generation by reducing the reliance on coal. In addition to asking the two local power companies to make greater use of natural gas, the government was at one time inclined to increase the purchase of nuclear electricity. However, following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, many countries and regions have switched to a more cautious approach to nuclear energy, and the government has decided against the increase. Now, with some of the electricity generators operated by the two power companies going to be retired in the next few years, the government has come up with a proposal to purchase electricity directly from the CSG to meet Hong Kong's electricity needs.
According to the government's consultation paper, the "grid purchase" option has a number of merits. For instance, non-fossil fuels account for 44 percent of the CSG's total generation capacity, and fossil fuels, 56 percent, the generation fuel mix being 62 percent thermal, 31 percent hydro, 6 percent nuclear, and 1 percent wind. So, theoretically, the purchase of CSG electricity could mean the introduction, for the first time, of clean fuels into Hong Kong. However, there is no way to find out what fuels would be used to generate the electricity to be supplied to Hong Kong. This is likely to be a focus of concern and discussion, especially among environmentalists.
But what is most important is power supply reliability. The consultation paper does not provide a track record of the CSG's supply reliability over the 12 years since its establishment in 2002, but only says that "the reliability of this option hinges on the availability of electricity for supply to Hong Kong", that "it is technically feasible for Hong Kong to import more electricity from the mainland", and that "studies of the detailed technical issues" will be carried out. Apparently, the government does not know much about the CSG's supply reliability and stability. Importing CSG electricity on a massive scale should be considered only if the government is satisfied that the electricity will be as high quality and reliable as that supplied by the two local companies.
Two things are clear from public discussions about the fuels for electricity generation. First, the costs must be low. Second, to reduce pollutant emissions, the public is willing to pay more. With regard to costs, the nuclear electricity purchased by CLP Holdings from the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station costs about$0.5 per kWh, while CSG electricity costs about $0.8 per kWh, which is much more expensive. However, as nuclear power is not included as an option in the government's consultation paper, it is not introduced into public discussion. We are of the opinion that nuclear power should also be considered.
As many citizens are willing to pay more for environmental protection, and as hydropower from Yunnan constitutes part of CSG electricity, the government should bring forward a proposal that the electricity to be supplied to Hong Kong must come from hydropower plants in Yunnan. If it is eventually found that this would push electricity costs beyond the financial reach of the public, the government can at least congratulate itself on having tried.