Hong Kong power firm CLP’s mystery plan for clean energy connection upgrade with mainland China sparks concern

Lawmakers and green groups accuse officials of laying groundwork for company to either tap more electricity from mainland grid or Daya Bay nuclear plant

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 10:59pm

Green groups and lawmakers in Hong Kong on Wednesday expressed concerns over an obscure plan by the larger of the city’s two power suppliers to upgrade a “clean energy” transmission system connected to the grid of mainland China’s Guangdong province.

CLP Power floated the proposal on Tuesday along with its five-year development and capital expenditure plans, which were also approved by the Executive Council, the body which advises the city’s leader.

Officials were accused of laying the groundwork for CLP to either tap more power from the mainland grid or the Daya Bay nuclear plant near Shenzhen – both controversial moves that were considered but shelved after a 2014-15 public consultation.

The consultation found that most residents and businesses were against buying more electricity from mainland supplier China Southern Power Grid (CSG), citing reliability concerns. The option was temporarily shelved in favour of using more natural gas for local generation.

During a special meeting of the Legislative Council’s economic development panel on Wednesday, environment minister Wong Kam-sing and his deputies failed to define the “zero carbon clean energy” in CLP’s proposal, citing an upcoming public consultation later this year.

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“Within the year, we will ask the Council for Sustainable Development to conduct a public engagement and look at a long-term decarbonisation strategy,” Wong said.

“All the information will be made transparent during these discussions.”

According to the Environment Bureau, the strengthened network would give Hong Kong the capability and flexibility to use more zero carbon energy from the mainland to manage the local fuel mix, and help it move quicker to its carbon emissions reduction targets for 2030 by as much as five years.

CLP Power, which supplies Kowloon, the New Territories and Lantau, said nuclear energy would not be the only option on the table and that it would be banking on new, cleaner fuel options in line with the “rapid development of the mainland electricity market”.

“The transmission already exists to import power from Daya Bay and is actually already connected to the Guangdong grid,” CLP managing director Chiang Tung-keung said.

“We plan to increase the transmission capacity but because of the long distance of about 160km it will take quite a while. We expect completion in 2025.”

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Chiang said CLP would only be able to make a decision on what the fuel type would be after assessing different energy sources and the public consultation.

But this failed to satisfy lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who pressed for answers on how much nuclear power the company planned to import.

The government has tread carefully on the issue of nuclear power since the 2011 Fukushima disaster and recent safety problems plaguing a new nuclear plant in Guangdong’s Taishan city, opting to keep the nuclear proportion of the post-2020 fuel mix at 25 per cent during the last revision.

“By enhancing the infrastructure, we are basically being forced to use it; to buy more from CSG or whatever. If it is zero carbon and clean, then you must be talking about nuclear,” Chu said.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to be importing more solar energy.”

He asked Wong whether the government was going to tolerate CLP’s “underhanded” approach to increase the ratio of nuclear power over time. “They must provide us with an answer because this is an investment into their net fixed assets,” he added.

Under the regulatory framework between CLP, HK Electric and the government – known as the “scheme of control” – the utilities must provide a steady supply of electricity at agreed prices in exchange for guaranteed returns.

The cap on earnings was recently lowered from 9.99 per cent to 8 per cent.

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Environment and energy experts said the government’s report was short of details and appeared “weird” given that the government had previously concluded that linking to the mainland grid would prove difficult and expensive, possibly costing upwards of HK$10 billion (US$1.3 billion).

“The officials also claimed that the Daya Bay nuclear power station had sold Hong Kong as much electricity as it could. So what more can be transmitted? The government document didn’t make it clear,” Prentice Koo Wai-muk, liaison officer of green group 350 Hong Kong, said.

Dr William Yu Yuen-ping, a member of the Environment Bureau’s Energy Advisory Committee, wondered whether CLP was planning to import more nuclear generated electricity from Guangdong power stations such as Yangjiang and Taishan by constructing long transmission cables.

“The report reads weird,” he said.

In an interview with the Post last year, then undersecretary for the environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said Hong Kong should consider buying electricity from the mainland grid to diversify its energy sources and tap into the cleaner fuels available and to start building the infrastructure.

The bureau said it had no policy on whether Hong Kong should keep buying a quarter of its electricity needs from the Daya Bay nuclear plant in Shenzhen after the supply agreement ends in 2034.

About 80 per cent of power generated at Daya Bay is supplied to Hong Kong.