Taiwan Life in Brief – April 2022

Taiwan experienced a nationwide blackout in March that impacted households and businesses across the island. While mechanical failure and human error were blamed for the incident, it once again called attention to Taiwan's grid resilience issues. Photo: CNA

March Blackouts Raise Supply, Grid Concerns

Taiwan experienced widespread blackouts on March 3, affecting over 5 million households around the island. Both human error and mechanical failures were at fault, according to Taiwan’s state-owned electricity monopoly Taipower. Although power was restored by the end of the day, the incident caused significant disruption to households and businesses.

Following an investigation, Taipower Chairman Yang Wei-fuu and President Chung Bin-li resigned from their positions, and three employees were questioned on suspicion of violating safety rules. Deputy Economics Minister Tseng Wen-sheng, who was named interim Taipower chairman following Yang’s resignation, requested NT$100 billion from the Taiwan government to modernize Taiwan’s power grid and improve grid resilience. Investigators found that one reason for the large scale of the blackouts was an overconcentration of power on certain parts of the grid, combined with a breach of safety measures.

Less than two weeks after the initial power outage, more blackouts were reported across northern and southern Taiwan, raising further concerns about the grid’s integrity. Another outage was reported at the Taoyuan international airport on March 11 but was found to be unrelated to grid issues.

The opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) criticized the Tsai government’s energy policies, arguing that they contributed to a domestic energy crisis. In response, Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua assured legislators that the incidents were due to infrastructure issues rather than an energy shortage. Her ministry announced that beginning in April, it would increase energy prices by up to 3% to cover the costs of necessary improvements to the grid.

However, the ministry backtracked on that decision on March 29, when it announced that the electricity price review committee had postponed a decision on electricity rates due to concerns over inflationary effects. The government has kept prices unchanged since the beginning of the pandemic in order to relieve some of the economic burden brought on by COVID-19.

Legislature Passes Bill to Lower Voting Age

A bill proposing a constitutional amendment to lower Taiwan’s voting age to 18 passed the Legislative Yuan on March 25. Taiwan’s current voting age is 20, two years older than the threshold of 18 maintained in most countries. During the run-up to the legislative vote, multiple student groups, including the Taiwan Youth Association for Democracy, called on all Taiwanese political parties to support the change. Although the KMT, which is less popular among young voters than the ruling DPP, did not commit to passing the legislation before the vote, all legislators who were present voted in favor of the change.

After passing the legislature with at least 75% of the vote, an amendment must be approved by 50% of all eligible voters in a public referendum to be formally ratified. Proponents of the voting age legislation hope that the referendum will be held on November 26 in conjunction with local elections to ensure a higher voter turnout and give the referendum a higher chance of passing.

If successful, it would be the first constitutional amendment to be enacted since 2005 when stricter requirements for amendments were adopted.