Kansai to face the heat reactor-free

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Kansai firms and individuals are bracing for a long summer, as contradictory predictions from Tokyo, Kansai Electric Power Co. and renewable-energy advocates are stirring concern over how much electricity will be available, but not fueling a desire to restart two nuclear reactors that would ensure sufficient power.

Since February, when local media reports suggested the Kansai region could face a 25 percent shortage of electricity this summer without nuclear power, the question of how much electricity was really available has been the subject of debate, and doubt.

Over the past three months, the projected shortage has been steadily revised downward.

The latest prediction, announced by the central government earlier this week, was that the area served by Kepco faced a maximum 14.9 percent electricity shortage without nuclear power.

Both Kepco and central government officials are encouraging strong conservation measures, and are preparing for the possibility of rolling blackouts.

But dire predictions from Tokyo and Kepco, which are also pushing hard for the restart of reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, have been greeted with criticism among Kansai business and government leaders, and appear to be having little effect on public opinion.

“Last summer, plans in the Tokyo region to have rolling blackouts created doubt in Tokyo and the surrounding areas. You can’t force that kind of decision on Kansai,” said Shigetaka Sato, chairman of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Kansai government leaders opposed to the Oi restart, including Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada and Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, have stepped up their criticism of Kepco and the central government in recent days, calling emergency disaster plans in the event of an accident at the Oi plants insufficient, and questioning both official predictions of huge electricity shortages and the motivation behind them.

A joint Osaka prefecture-city environmental strategy committee, comprised of renewable energy experts and Kepco critics, has been meeting with Kepco officials since February. Tetsunari Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies and a committee member, believes that instead of a huge electricity shortage, there is enough available power from other sources that, combined with basic conservation measures, will mean a slight energy surplus.

“Projected demand and supply were originally calculated at 2010 levels, during an extremely hot summer and at a time when no special conservation measures were in place,” Iida said.

Distrust of Kepco is especially strong among local government leaders, who have watched in anger as the utility has kept revising its predictions after being challenged.

“Kepco is just presenting numbers without proof or explanation, in the hope that they can get back to business as usual,” Hashimoto told reporters last month.

It’s unclear by what percentage Kansai residents might be called on to conserve this summer, with estimates ranging from 10 to 20 percent, depending on the month and time of day. However, despite the prospect of reduced electricity and threats of power outages, local media polls over the past two weeks show between one-half and two-thirds of Kansai residents do not want the Oi reactors turned back on.

At the same time, Kansai businesses and individuals are taking what measures they can to conserve power. Mitsubishi Motors recently announced the portable generator at its Kyoto factory, which had been idle since 2006, will be restarted.

Kintetsu Department Store Co., which has branches throughout Kansai, aims to replace 60 percent of its lighting with energy-saving LEDs.

And Kansai region convenience stores will enact the same kind of energy-saving measures Kanto and Tohoku area stores undertook last summer. Other companies are expected to follow suit.