The economic future of Penghu has always been a contentious topic for discussion amongst Pēnghú rén (Penghu people). The islands’ economy mainly revolves around tourism and fishing, though those can be tentative industries. For much of the year Penghu is devoid of tourists, and fishing is difficult due to extreme wind. With increasing pressure to find a solution to the county’s economic woes, a number of controversial proposals have been hotly debated. Plans to turn the archipelago into an ‘island Vegas’ or ‘mini-macau’ were strongly rejected by popular vote last year, and another plan to sell off islets for use as nuclear waste dumping sites were met with protests. Now it seems the locals have turned to more sustainable means of carving out a future for themselves. Penghu County, with the support of the national government, has just announced plans to harness its most abundant resource – the wind.
In a huge project that is set to greatly benefit the local economy as well as the environment, the government is planning to develop Penghu into a ‘low-carbon’ island. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions in Penghu to half of 2005 levels over the next five years, and close the islands only ‘dirty’ power plant within the next three years. The strategy, which includes building 11 wind farms (adding to the existing ZhongTun Wind Farm) across the archipelago, aims to provide more than 50 percent of the islands’ energy needs through renewable resources. Excess power generated from the wind farms would be sent back to the mainland grid via an underwater cable and sold for a profit. The cable would also act as a backup system allowing the islands to draw power from the main grid in summer when wind energy production is low.
A prominent feature of the project is that it encourages residents to directly take a stake in their county’s future by investing in the wind farms. In order to ensure that the operation stays in local hands, 55 percent of the shares in the wind company will be set aside for the Penghu County Government and local stakeholders.
The initiative will allow for the installation of solar panels at bus stops and schools, as well as LED street lamps. It will also include the promotion of biodiesel and electric motorcycles in an effort to further reduce emissions and change the way transportation on the island operates. Furthermore, there is a waste reduction plan underway which focuses on local businesses discouraging the use of disposable containers and chopsticks, through the ‘bring your own chopsticks’ campaign.
In Penghu there are only two seasons; the humid, hot summer and the windy season. The wind begins to pick up in late October and usually doesn’t show signs of slowing until April – that’s six steady months of wind. So, it comes as no surprise that the people of Penghu have decided it’s time to harness this great natural resource and turn the typically difficult and harsh windy season into a positive and profitable time of year. The best part of the project is that it focuses on the sustainable future of the islands, not only for the people, but also in caring for the unique environment that exists here.
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