Energy conservation best option to reduce emissions
The government has raised pressure on Hong Kong's two power companies - CLP Power and Hongkong Electric (Holdings) - over emissions.
In a press release issued two days after the Hong Kong Marathon was marred by air pollution on February 12, an Environmental Protection Department (EPD) spokesman said: '... much of our effort has been vitiated by the increase in emissions from the local power companies ... To achieve a sustained improvement in our air quality, power companies must substantially reduce their emissions.'
There are good and timely reasons for this focus. 'Power generation emits 92 per cent of the sulphur dioxide and half of the nitrogen oxides in Hong Kong,' he said.
The EPD sees emission reduction by the power companies as critical to Hong Kong meeting its emission reduction targets by 2010, as stipulated in an agreement with the Guangdong provincial government.
There is no better time than now to put pressure on the power companies, given the public consultation under way for the renewal in 2008 of the scheme of control (SoC) that links the firms' assets to their profits. If they build more power stations, the firms can charge more.
There are several ways the duopoly can meet emission reduction targets by 2010. Emission reduction devices - flue gas desulfurisation and selective catalytic reduction that drastically reduces sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions - are being installed.
CLP, operator of the coal-burning Castle Peak Power Station, has said it will begin using more Envirocoal, with sulphur content of 0.1 per cent, cutting sulfur dioxide emissions.
Both CLP and Hongkong Electric are exploring ways to burn more natural gas, which is far less polluting than coal or oil. There is also hope the emissions trading scheme, being developed by the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments, would be the framework of financial incentives for power plants to invest in cost-effective ways of reducing emissions.
Greenpeace air pollution campaigner Chow Sze-chung said it was encouraging that the government had considered environmental concerns in SoC talks. 'With the previous schemes of control, the discussion was always focused on electricity tariffs and the permitted rate of return. It is a good sign to see the government treating the regulation of power companies as an environmental as well as an economic and social matter.'
Mr Chow said, however, that the time was ripe to begin switching from burning coal to using renewable energy - the basis for any long-term solution to air quality and energy use. 'If we don't act now, it will mean at least a 10-year wait, until 2018.'
Any viable drive towards renewable energy - primarily wind, as solar panels are still prohibitively expensive - would have to be regional, he said.
'Hong Kong has some potential, but not for anything on a large scale,' said Mr Chow. 'On the other hand Guangdong has a lot of areas that are suitable for wind farms.'
However, Otto Poon Lok-to, convenor of the Council for Sustainable Development's renewable energy group, said clean energy would have no impact on the regional air quality within the short or medium term.
The group, which has studied the issue and held talks with the government, power companies and the community since 2003 - had suggested a target of 1 to 2 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2010. Instead, Mr Poon said the biggest potential gains would come from energy conservation and higher energy efficiencies.
'If we are just halfway careful or concerned, we can easily save 10 to 15 per cent in energy consumption,' Mr Poon said, 'I think Hong Kong is not very good at energy efficiency.'
Environmental department assistant director Tse Chin-wan said the government was taking the lead: it aimed to cut 1.5 per cent of electricity consumption at its office buildings annually, and was also considering legislation for the compulsory labelling of energy efficiency of electrical goods.
He admitted community awareness on energy conservation was not high enough, but denied it was because the government did not do enough. 'There needs to be time for the community to go through a process of becoming alert to these issues,' he said, adding that any long-term solution to air pollution problems beyond 2010 would require people to change their habits on energy use.