A government panel says Hokkaido will likely have to cut electricity usage by some 10 percent this winter to maintain a sufficient supply safety margin.
If the power from Hokkaido Electric Power Co. were to drop by as much as 1.37 million kw, owing for example to shutdowns of multiple power plants due to mechanical or other problems, the total supply capacity would fall below demand by 7.7 percent, the panel of experts panel said Wenesday.
To allow the utility to secure a safety margin of 3 percent, considered the minimum necessary level to ensure a stable supply, an estimated 580,000 kw, or 10.3 percent of the estimated maximum demand of 5.63 million kw, would need to be saved in its service area this winter, the panel said.
The panel is currently focusing on Hokkaido because electricity demand there peaks in winter.
Meanwhile, the panel said that all regional power suppliers will likely be able to secure the reserve capacity of 3 percent or more in January and February, the peak winter months.
This is because conservation efforts have been taking hold across the nation, according to the panel, which is headed by Shinkun Haku, a senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office.
Still, it pointed to the risk of supply becoming tight in Hokkaido if a large thermal power plant there and facilities for transmitting electricity between Hokkaido and Honshu were to stop simultaneously.
To mitigate the risk, maintenance work at power plants and related facilities, as well as conservation measures should be beefed up, it said.
Currently, 48 of Japan’s 50 nuclear power reactors are idle, including the three at Hokkaido Electric’s Tomari plant.
Power suppliers have been required to increase thermal power generation and face surging fuel costs as a result.
The panel estimates that the fuel costs at nine utilities could nearly double during the current fiscal year from two years earlier.
The nine power companies are expected to pay about ¥6.8 trillion for fossil fuels, including liquefied natural gas and crude oil, to run thermal power plants in the year ending next March 31.
That compares with approximately ¥3.6 trillion in the year through March 2011, the board said in a report. The surge reflects the switch to thermal power generation to replace atomic reactors shut down for safety checks due to the Fukushima meltdowns.
Japan, which imports almost all of its crude oil and natural gas, had a trade deficit of ¥558.6 billion last month, the first shortfall in the month of September since 1979.
The country may log a trade deficit for the second consecutive year in fiscal 2012 as fuel imports soar and all but two of the its 50 commercial reactors remain offline, the Institute of Energy Economics said in a July 2 report.
The nine utilities, excluding Okinawa Electric Power Co., which doesn’t operate any nuclear plants, racked up about ¥5.9 trillion in fuel costs in fiscal 2011, ¥2.3 trillion more than a year earlier, the advisory board said in the report. The power companies reported combined losses of ¥1.6 trillion in the last fiscal year due to the surge in fuel costs.
Based on the result of the panel’s discussions, the government will come up with conservation measures in early November for this winter. It is considering setting a power-saving target of 5 to 10 percent for Hokkaido.