Blackouts crippling Kanto when country needs it most

Dear Prime Minister Naoto Kan,

This week Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda was quoted as saying rolling blackouts should be extended to central Tokyo in the interest of fairness. Given the severe disruption the blackouts are inflicting, his proposal is less than helpful.

We’ve all heard stories of commuters unable to get to work or factories left idle. This kind of productivity loss is crippling the Kanto economic engine just when the rest of the country needs it most. On top of that, hospitals are scheduling surgeries around blackouts so patients aren’t put at risk, because sophisticated equipment can shut down during the switch to backup power.

If Mr. Kaieda is concerned about fairness, please ask him to consider the following story. The day the weather turned cold and heating demand nearly overloaded the system, our office complied with the government request to close early. At Iidabashi the train platform got dangerously crowded, so I walked the rest of the way home. Along the way not one vending machine was turned off. Shop signs were lit even though the sun was still up. That day helped us all understand that turning off a light or two simply isn’t enough.

Companies and individuals have taken meaningful steps to save electricity. In our office we’re taking the stairs and wearing sweaters. I believe most of us are willing to do more — if we only knew how we can make a difference.

I’d like to suggest that instead of imposing more blackouts, you ask METI and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to enlist the public in a collective effort to reduce demand to the point where no one needs to be cut off.

Here are a few steps you may wish to consider:

• Start a campaign: If we’ve lost 30 percent of our supply, we’d better cut 30 percent of our demand. Make a target, a slogan and a mascot. Cheerlead for greater efforts every day until we get there, and keep it up so we don’t backslide.

• Daily dashboard: Tepco has a web page showing hourly demand across their service area, but this doesn’t go far enough. We need an interactive page that lets us simulate energy reduction in a home or business so we understand which cuts matter most. We need daily updates by neighborhood showing our progress toward the goal.

• Highlight heroes and hogs: We’ll never reach our target if only some people cut back. Put success stories on the daily dashboard so we can emulate them, and call out the energy-intensive activities that are not cutting back.

• Rank our choices: We need hospitals more than hair dryers. Post a list of indispensable functions — like traffic signals — and how much energy they need, and another list of energy-intensive activities that we might do without. Implement demand-sensitive pricing: Put a 50 percent surcharge on electricity during peak hours, and a 100 percent surcharge on each Tepco customer when their daily use exceeds the campaign target. Dedicate the funds to earthquake recovery and alternative energy sources.

Japan has a long tradition of living simply and tolerating discomfort,and the words mottainai and gaman have spread overseas. At the same time, Japan has given the world self-flushing heated toilets.

Today there is no denying that nuclear power plants around the country have fueled affluent lifestyles, and there is no reason to black out whole neighborhoods while others cling to their creature comforts.

One of your predecessors championed the “Cool Biz” initiative, and his leadership helped Japan change its energy habits. You are in a position to lead the country back toward its frugal roots, and at the same time point the way forward to a society built on renewable energy. Please tell us how we can help.


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