Hong Kong's power firms have negative view of renewable energy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 5:06pm

The "Public Consultation on the Future Development of the Electricity Market" ended on June 30.

The two power companies and government have created a negative campaign towards renewable energy. Stating that renewable energy is unaffordable and people lack the "willingness to pay", they have misled the public into believing that Hong Kong cannot further invest on this "unaffordable" technology.

Before arriving at this unfounded conclusion, let us look at some simple facts. An average household in Hong Kong spends 80.5 Hong Kong cents to HK$1.75 per kilowatt-hour on electricity, while more than 50 countries, including the Philippines, Latvia, Columbia, Brazil and Lithuania, spend more on electricity. The Environment Bureau hasn't conducted any study to prove that renewable energy is "unaffordable". Meanwhile, a study conducted by WWF finds that more than 80 per cent of the respondents support the development of renewable energy.

The consultation document tactfully posed questions like "Should Hong Kong further promote renewable energy despite its higher tariff implications; and if so, about how much (in terms of percentage of your electricity bill) are you prepared to pay?". This question is economically erroneous, and intrinsically misleading, as if asking, "Do you want to pay for electricity or would you rather have it for free?" Most people would say, "I would rather have it for free."

Not only is the cost of renewable energy gradually declining, it is not prone to drastic market fluctuations like other conventional sources, making it a much more reliable source of power for the public.

Fossil-fuel-based power plants produce pollutants which contribute to global warming and air pollution. Last year alone, according to the Hedley Environmental Index, people spent more than 170,000 days in hospital beds and 2,616 people died prematurely due to air pollution in Hong Kong, resulting in an annual economic tangible cost of more than HK$3 billion. This environmental and social cost incurred by the general public, due to "dirty" power plants, remains unaccounted for in the cost of conventional electricity.

Electricity should be priced such that the misuse and overuse of it are discouraged, while not affecting the underprivileged. In addition, the externality cost of conventional electricity should be reflected in its price.

Investment in renewable energy should not be discouraged on the account of "willingness to pay". Rather, the environmental cost of not investing in renewable energy should be accounted for.

Asmita Aarshi, project officer, Friends of the Earth