Senior environment officials appeared to be targeting one of the city's two power suppliers yesterday when they hit back at what they called misleading information about a plan to import electricity from the mainland.
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.
The three-month consultation, which is due to end on June 18, has seen the number of submissions in the past two weeks snowball from 1,700 to over 10,000. HK Electric, controlled by Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong Holdings empire, has condemned the import option as inferior and recently posted a letter to its customers on its website urging them to file submissions in favour of the local option.
There were also reports that Li's conglomerates were asking its shareholders, staff and business partners to submit views.
In an apparent reference to HK Electric's claims, Vincent Liu Ming-kwong, deputy secretary for the environment, yesterday said that while the government had no favoured option, he wanted people to grasp correctly the facts about the import option.
"The public can only make a choice if they have the correct information - but there has been misleading information from a power company, both on television and in e-mails," he said.
Liu refused to be drawn over whether a lack of data in the consultation paper was to blame for the misleading claims.
He dismissed calls to make public more information on costs and pricing, saying such a move might jeopardise future negotiations with the mainland.
On its website, HK Electric highlights annual power cuts totalling an average of 3.2 hours suffered by customers of China Southern Power Grid - which would supply Hong Kong under the import option.
Liu said yesterday that there existed vast regional differences in the reliability performance within the grid spanning the five provinces covered by the mainland power supplier. He also said the grid has made great improvements in recent years.
Contrary to HK Electric claims, Liu said it was unlikely extra power demand from Hong Kong would spur more environmentally unfriendly coal-fired generation on the mainland as the grid was expected to have surplus power beyond 2020.
He also clarified that carbon emissions per unit of power from China Southern's grid were currently lower than that of Hong Kong's two suppliers combined.
Liu went on to name HK Electric when he rebuked "over-optimistic" claims that the price of natural gas had peaked and the firm could freeze prices until 2018. He said the firm had to renew its gas supply contract and build a new generation unit, meaning a tariff hike was likely.
Elsewhere yesterday, Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said he found some of the claims about the import option "biased" and "not so accurate".
He said the import option could help diversify the city's fuel supply and pave the way to open up the electricity market.
The city's other fuel supplier is CLP Power. Its chief executive, Richard Lancaster, yesterday renewed the company's call to keep the import option open to allow flexibility in future supply.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Nuclear Society proposed a third option in which half the city's electricity would come from mainland nuclear power stations.
HK Electric last night stood by its claims and said its letters were merely intended to prompt customers to give their views.