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April, 2011:

New regulations urged to force city to cut back on its use of energy

South China Morning Post — April 26, 2011

New regulations are needed to force Hongkongers to cut energy consumption if they don’t want to rely on nuclear power, Council for Sustainable Development chairman Bernard Chan warns.

The former Executive Council member made the comment as concerns mount locally over the use of nuclear power amid the crisis at the Fukushima plant following the devastating quake and tsunami in Japan.

“Increasing nuclear supply is an option for cutting carbon emissions, but clearly the option has now become controversial after the crisis [in Japan],” he said.

Public pressure is intensifying for the Hong Kong government to give up on a target for increasing nuclear use from 23 per cent to 50 per cent of the fuel mix in 10 years. Chan said the controversy could be a blessing in disguise: “It highlights the importance of demand-side control.”

Chan said the council was preparing for a consultation to gauge public views on how the city should tackle climate change in the second half of this year. It will focus on ways to control public demand for energy and make recommendations to the government early next year.

Measures being considered include forcing big consumers such as developers, listed companies and management firms of commercial buildings and shopping malls to audit and disclose their carbon emissions and energy consumption.

Electricity consumed by buildings contributes to about 60 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, of which commercial buildings take up 65 per cent.

Apart from tightening existing energy efficiency standards for commercial buildings, the council would also explore the feasibility of installing meters in commercial buildings to measure electricity consumption; establishing best practice guidelines for different industries in energy consumption; and encouraging companies to become carbon-neutral – which means offsetting carbon emissions by investing in green projects.

To set an example, Chan, who is head of Asia Insurance, invested HK$100,000 in a reforestation project in Sichuan province to offset 709 tonnes of carbon emitted by the company in 2009. His company conducted a carbon audit to determine its emissions. He said cutting energy use was far more effective than paying for carbon emissions.

But one obstacle he found was that no matter how much on air conditioning his office saved, the saving would not be reflected on electricity bills as a management company run by the MTR Corp charged an air-conditioning fee in terms of office size but not the amount consumed.

He was also told that it was impossible to install meters to record energy consumed by offices as the management company must gain the consensus of all individual owners of World Wide House, Central, where his office is located.

“There’s a lack of incentive to cut energy. They won’t do it unless we have some mandatory measures that are feasible,” he said.