A massive floating solar energy facility proposed for Tainan's General Salt Flats in Taiwan may have been stopped. The project, if built, would directly impact the critically significant ecological area and the millions of migratory birds who journey each year between Taiwan and Siberia. These include the internationally endangered Knoll's Sandpiper and Shoveler Sandpipers.
WECC recently interviewed Chen Bojing (photo on right), a community leader in the village of Yantian, who told us that once the salt fields are transformed into a sea of solar panels the ancestral salt grounds will be lost forever. The decision to permit the project lies with the federal government, which had not consulted with Mr. Chen or others in the village. Mr. Chen is also concern that eco-tourism, which provides an important source of revenue for the area will suffer after the natural area is transformed into an industrial site.
Currently there are no laws to protect sensitive wildlife areas from solar development, a fact confirmed by Huang Shuyan, an assistant researcher at the Special Health Center. The Center has been tasked with tracking waterbirds and their habitat along the Taiwan 61 highway. According to Mr. Huang, unless an area has already been designated as a national wetland or otherwise protected area, there are no legal options for saving the salt flats from renewable energy development. The mitigation proposed by the developer will not be sufficient to address the harm created by building the solar power plant according to Mr. Huang. "When encountering a truly sensitive ecological hot zone the priority should be to avoid development and preserve the highest ecological benefits, rather than using ecological compensation and allowing all reserved areas to be subject to undifferentiated development," he said.
It appears that the concerns raised by Mr. Chen and others have had an effect. Last month, Taiwan's Ministry of Finance ruled that “the land used for producing salt connected to highly ecologically disputed areas in Chiayi County and Tainan city shall no longer be provided for solar photovoltaic installations.” The Ministry also stated that any "national land that has been adopted by conservation groups" will also be off-limits for solar energy development. Any permits that have already been issued will be revoked and monetary deposits submitted by developers will be returned without interest.