Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 June, 2014, 5:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 June, 2014, 5:30am

HK Electric may be right about idea of importing power from mainland China

BIO

Jake van der Kamp is a native of the Netherlands, a Canadian citizen, and a longtime Hong Kong resident. He started as a South China Morning Post business reporter in 1978, soon made a career change to investment analyst and returned to the newspaper in 1998 as a financial columnist.
 

The government is currently seeking public opinion on options for the future of the city's power supply. It boils down to a choice between importing about 30 per cent of power from the mainland grid or upgrading local power generation.

South China Morning Post, June 6

 

It is not only government seeking public opinion. HK Electric has been e-mailing customers recently, asking them to speak out against mainland power, and even China Light, careful with its words, says the Hong Kong-only option "provides a more certain result".

Let me put the background into immediate perspective. The red line on the chart shows you a 10-year average of electricity consumption growth in Hong Kong, down from more than 10 per cent 30 years ago to less than 1 per cent now.

This leads to an obvious question. Why now? Decisive measures to guarantee power supply might have been understandable 30 years ago but, as the chart shows, power consumption growth has fallen far below economic growth. An outright decline in electricity usage is now distinctly possible.

We shall have to build new power plants anyway, of course. They have finite lifetimes and the technology has advanced considerably from the 1980s. The future lies in small, highly efficient, gas turbine plants, assuming that we rule out nuclear because of the Fukushima disaster.

But with no urgent, pressing need for more power right now, the question comes down to whether mainland power can be more reliable, cheaper and less polluting than domestically sourced power.

No, and decisively so, on all three counts, says HK Electric.

Well, yes and no, because in the distant future we may perhaps get a lower carbon footprint from mainland power, says China Light (and I shall never comprehend why a company with a name of such grand mystique changed it to CLP Holdings).

The China Light submission is a thorough and superbly crafted document. To me, however, it seems to say, "Let's stall 'em and maybe they'll go away."

I understand the equivocation. There is an undercurrent of thought in the government (instantly denied, of course) that China Light is perhaps not quite enough of a Chinese company for such an important position in Hong Kong. The founding Kadoorie family were Iraqi compradors, you know.

Thus when chairman Michael Kadoorie complained in public of official inattention to pressing questions of power supply there were protests in the Legislative Council of his having insulted the government.

One suspects that just perhaps, maybe, the reaction would have been more reserved if the complaint had come from a company backed by tycoon Li Ka-shing, such as HK Electric, for instance.

But what has really stood out recently is how robustly our bureaucrats speak out for the mainland option. Why should they care so much if all we have is a dispassionate consultation asking the public's opinion on which way we should go in the future?

I think the answer is that the consultation, ending on June 18, is a fraud. Someone in Beijing has sent down instructions that Hong Kong is to source 30 per cent of its power from the mainland and the bureaucracy has been told to make it appear that this has full public backing. There is really no consultation. It has all been settled.

And I think the reason Beijing wants it this way is, first of all, the old-fashioned central planning notion that government must have direct input in key industries and, secondly, that sales to Hong Kong would be paid for in hard currency rather than funny money.

I think HK Electric has the right of it this time.

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