Sustainability & CSR

The Taiwan stakeholder conundrum

31 January, 2024

Renewable energy development projects in Taiwan are being delayed by the lack of a clear legal definition of stakeholders and unclear permitting procedures but remedies are available that could turn things around. 


By Bart Linssen and Raoul Kubitschek

My friend was watching as an old guy on an old motorcycle approached their worksite, slowly moving forward, nearing the site where security staff were stationed on the road. He passed the security staff as they watched. Then, the old man drove another 50 meters or so and proceeded to dramatically and without reason fall off his motorcycle and lie prostrated on the ground. On the opposite side of the road from security staff, a large media contingent had gathered, and cameras were rolling. The location was a construction site in Taiwan. Things had become quite dramatic.


This drama happened quite a few years ago but similar events still occur regularly. Residents are wary of developers and government officials and this is easily channeled into protest action. The dynamics are often fuzzy. Are the motives political, financial or criminal? It is fair to say that those persons affected by a project have to be properly informed, consulted and if applicable, compensated. But who are those affected? This is not clearly and consistently identified in Taiwan, and that leads to many problems that are quite unique to Taiwan.


Whether it involves onshore wind, offshore wind, geothermal, solar, biomass or energy storage, the lack of a clear legal definition of stakeholder and related guidelines provides an opening for situations as described above, which ultimately leads to delays in the rollout of renewable energy capacity. Generally, what happens is that developers start with the good intention to engage with the community effectively by talking to community representatives and organizing hearings and information sessions for residents to attend. Lots of time and effort is spent on public relations. Most of the time this works quite well. Compensation and benefits are agreed upon with the community and, counter to what the media reports, most projects have little opposition from nearby residents.


Due to a lack of clearer regulation as well as a missing focus on technical discussions, renewable energy projects are prone to fall victim to emotional debates or third-party interference. Over recent years social media has amplified this issue. While social media can be a good source for information, it can just as easily be a source of half-truths and misinformation. Any possible objection against a project posted online may be used as a reason to block or delay the project and make the objection sound reasonable on the surface. For example, a popular recent topic popping up with wind energy opponents is “shadowing”. This is a situation where a wind turbine is between the sun and a residence building and the shadow of the blades “swipe” over the residence, basically turning the sunlight “on” and “off” for residents, which is very annoying indeed for those living there if this happens over a long period of time. However, it is an issue that occurs in northern latitudes, where shadows tend to be very long, especially in the wintertime. In Taiwan, aside from maybe during sunsets, this should not be an issue. However, because Taiwan does not yet have regulations governing the issue, turbine shadowing is one of the rationales used to block or delay projects.


It is often at the moment that full permits are obtained and the first spade is in the ground and costs of delay are the most prohibitive that protesters suddenly appear. For developers, this is really difficult to handle. They are under a lot of pressure as each day of delay costs money while the developer has to find out what it is the protestors want and then deal with it. If the issue is not resolved, the media will show up and a PR nightmare unfolds.


Opposition to and protests against renewable energy developments also occur in Europe and no developer will proceed with a project before such issues are resolved. The problem in Taiwan is that even if an agreement with residents has been made, and even if all permitting has been obtained, certain actors (in Taiwan called 綠蟑螂 or “green cockroaches”) may see the project as a means to political or financial benefit and are able to disturb or stop it, claiming that they have not been consulted during the approval process and/or are affected by the development.

To prevent such unnecessary and costly interference, a clear definition of stakeholders is essential. Stakeholder definitions in Europe vary from country to country. In the Netherlands, for example, you may only claim to be a stakeholder in a wind power project, if you live within a one-kilometer radius from a turbine. Outside of this radius, you are considered not to be affected by the development of the wind farm. In Taiwan often the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is the only official channel for stakeholders to voice their concerns and have an opportunity to be heard by the wider public.


The actual stakeholders should be better, not less informed, but it should be clear even before the start who these stakeholders are, starting with a clear definition of who the stakeholders actually are. A second difficulty for developers is the actual engagement with those stakeholders. Taiwan’s data protection and privacy laws make it difficult to find out details of who residents actually are. In this regard, there is a role for local governments to play, by acting as the intermediary between developers and residents and making sure consultation is complete.


Currently, most of the stakeholder engagement in Taiwan is covered during the project’s EIA. Contrary to the method of many countries in Europe, EIAs in Taiwan are conducted through a panel system, whereby a panel of experts reviews the project plans and identifies the requirements in terms of social and environmental needs. While general technical guidance is defined in advance, the detailed requirements depend on whatever the panel raises as a topic while developers go through the EIA approval process. This is not predictable and can present developers with challenges that are hard to anticipate. The vagueness in this process also provides easy opportunities to create disturbance or delay by outside actors with different agendas.


Here is what can and should be done to address the shortcomings in Taiwan’s permitting process. A two-phase EIA review, where in the pre-project stage the requirements are clearly laid down would be a welcome improvement. This would fill the gap between the Development Activity Plan and the EIA panel hearings. For example, the panel would convene early to discuss and decide with the project owner the scoping parameters before collecting detailed data. The EIA requirements for a project should be clear before the project permitting procedure starts and should include the relevant standards for stakeholder engagement.


Active positive participation of the local government in this process is a second and important need. Local governments should have specific and concrete renewable energy targets to incentivize them to take this active role. Standards should be set for who can be considered a stakeholder and guidelines made for stakeholder engagement. This would allow for the setting of clear regulations for stakeholder engagement outside of the EIA and ease the burden on this process. Rules should be clear so that the rule of law can be fully applied throughout that process. Finally, time limits should be set for the central and local government approvals needed. If the approval is not received within a certain time, the permit should be deemed to have been approved. This would follow the latest developments in the European Union (EU), which includes a 24-month time limit as part of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (2018/2001).  


Time is running out. An overshoot of the 1.5 degrees limit on average global temperatures is already a certainty as the current global increase is 1.2 degrees and there is no curbing of global CO2 emissions in sight. Taiwan’s 2050 net zero target does not appear feasible based on the current trajectory. It is of utmost importance that the rollout of renewable energy is sped up. Taiwan’s government’s renewable energy is targeted to reach 15-20% by 2025. This will not be achieved.


In conclusion, clear stakeholder definitions, a clear stakeholder engagement process, a two-phase EIA, time limits for approvals and local governments’ direct and positive involvement are needed to speed up the deployment of renewable energy production and storage projects. This would reduce the risk to developers and prevent unnecessary additional cost to the projects and society and give Taiwan a credible shot at actually achieving net zero by 2050.


Bart Linssen is the Director of Renewable Energy at RCI Engineering.


Raoul Kubitschek has worked in Taiwan’s renewable energy sector since 2008 and is currently the Taiwan Country Manager for NIRAS. He is concurrently Co-Chair of the ECCT’s Energy and Environment committee.

Go Top