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Instead of making pledges about AC, the gov't should be making plans for Taiwan's energy security

TAIPEI, Taiwan — At first it sounds like a good idea. A typhoon has knocked down power plant towers, adding to existing energy shortage worries. Why not make every government office turn the AC off for two hours — make it the hottest two hours of the day when power usage peaks — until the towers are back online? It shows government officials are willing to sacrifice their comfort and share the people's burden as well as to lead by example.

Then came the reports of civil servants complaining to reporters about the inhibiting heat. Some said they grabbed their laptops and decamped to the nearest convenience stores to continue their work. Some also slammed the policy — spearheaded by the Executive Yuan and quickly followed by the Presidential Office — as counterproductive, saying that shutting the AC down for two hours before turning it back on did not conserve a meaningful amount of power, and that some offices might need to buy more fans just for the campaign.

It's not clear what kind of examples the central government wants to set with this drive. The civil servants simmering in overheated buildings are not just sacrificing their personal comfort but also their efficiency (just ask those working at convenience stores) — as well as that of others who come to these building for business, such as visiting members of the public and the press. It seems to imply that a good PR move is more important than a proper work environment.

And it might backfire even as a PR move. Imagine the response if hot and angry reporters or members of the public find a room with the AC left on — either intentionally or not — during hours when it's supposed to be curtailed.

What's more important: if the government has to resort to turning off its AC just because the power from one plant is cut off, as suggested by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, it's a government admission that Taiwan's power situation is already dire. Then how can the public trust the economic minister's promise that Taiwan will not face power rationing during the peak usage season of summer? Nesat and Haitong were not the strongest of typhoons: what if a bigger storm takes down more power plants?

If the government is serious about maintaining Taiwan's power security, it should forget about the thermostats, fire up the computers and work quickly for a feasible national energy plan. If government officials really want to face the heat, tackle hot-button issues such as nuclear power and energy sector privatization, and leave their underlings alone.

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