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Chubu sees solid future in sunlight

Chunichi Shimbun

The Chubu region, which boasts more hours of sunlight than average in Japan, is increasingly being targeted for new solar plants by companies wanting to tap into the new feed-in tariff system that guarantees an attractive price for electricity produced from renewable energy.

Some of the firms intend to use idle property they already own, while in other cases the prefectural and municipal governments are offering up public land that isn’t being used.

The industry ministry set the rate at which utilities have to buy the clean electricity at ¥42 per kwh, high enough for the power suppliers to turn a profit.

A consortium of six companies that includes Mitsui Chemicals Inc. and Mitsui & Co. is planning a 50,000 kw solar plant, one of the largest in Japan, in Tahara, Aichi Prefecture.

The planned site is a parcel that Mitsui Chemicals bought in 1989. It was going to build a petrochemical plant there, but that plan fell through due to a slump in petrochemical demand.

“We have been thinking about how to use (the land) efficiently. The rate of sunlight hours in Tahara is one of the best in Japan,” Mitsui Chemicals President Toshikazu Tanaka said.

Canadian Solar Japan K.K., the Japanese subsidiary of a Canadian solar battery maker, is planning a 2,000 kw solar power plant on land in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, owned by Hakuto Co., a wholesaler of electronic devices and the exclusive distributor in Japan of Canadian Solar’s products.

Tsu-based Sanko Real Estate Co. will also make use of idle land in Ise, Mie Prefecture, where it had been trying to lure commercial tenants.

Nagano Prefecture meanwhile has announced nine possible sites for a solar plant and selected Sharp Corp., one of Japan’s top solar battery makers, to build a plant on one of the locations.

“Solar panels have low efficiency when the temperature is high. But Nagano is not so hot and the amount of sunlight is sufficient. Therefore, Nagano is suitable for solar power generation,” a prefectural official said.

Mie Prefecture is calling on companies to operate solar power plants on land near the border with Aichi Prefecture. “It is a local government’s job not only to promote renewable energy but also to revitalize the regional economy,” a Mie official said.

Chubu Electric Power Co. began operating a 1,000 kw solar plant in Iida, Nagano Prefecture, in January 2011 and a 7,500 kw plant in Taketoyo, Aichi Prefecture, last October. The facility in Iida produced 1.5 million kwh in the 12 months to March, 50 percent better than expected.

Power suppliers need central government approval before they can sell electricity to utilities. It takes about a month to get the green light, so only a few companies so far have asked to sign a contract with Chubu Electric Power, but the number is expected to increase in the near future.

The Pacific coast of the Chubu region tends to have few cloudy days. In a ranking of average sunlight hours among 47 cities in 47 prefectures, the city of Shizuoka came in fifth, Nagoya seventh, Gifu ninth and Tsu 10th, according to the Meteorological Agency.

An Environment Ministry study found that Aichi is the No. 1 prefecture in potential for solar power using walls and roofs of factories and other structures to place solar panels, because Aichi has many large factories. Shizuoka is third best.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 2.