Movements to promote so-called green energy, such as wind and solar power, are gaining momentum in Japan as opposition to the use of nuclear power increases following last year’s fatal nuclear accident and rising pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A suprapartisan Diet members’ association to promote green — or renewable — energy hopes to submit a bill before the end of the current Diet session on June 17 to boost output of such energy. Formed in November, the group has 256 members, from both houses of the Diet.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry convened a 30-member subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Energy on April 24 for the first time in a decade to work out recommendations for a new national energy policy in about a year.
Under the draft bill drawn up by the legislators’ association, renewable energy refers to solar and wind power, water power from small-scale projects not utilizing dams, biomass energy from resources such as wood shavings, straw and animal discharges, and other energy that is sustainable and friendly to the environment.
Japan’s green-energy supply accounted for 1.1 percent of its total in fiscal 1996, but the government is targeting 3.1 percent for fiscal 2010, according to MITI’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency.
In contrast, the European Union has been actively developing renewable energy sources and aims to raise energy supply through such methods to 12 percent by 2010.
A system to oblige electric utilities to buy a fixed amount of power generated from renewable energy is widely considered to be a good way forward. Germany, which legislated such a system in 1991, has become the world’s top generator of wind power.
The association’s draft bill fails to introduce such a system, but it requires electric power companies to submit their purchase plans to the new Economy and Industry Ministry, which will replace MITI next January. The new ministry will have the power to demand changes to the purchasing plans.
The draft also calls for the government to use subsidies to promote the shift to green energy, helping to overcome the initial cost handicap with regard to conventional energy sources, such as oil.
MITI sources have said the ministry is also planning to force power companies to buy a certain portion of electricity generated by wind or solar power.
The system would involve establishing a “Green Credit System” under which the government would issue certificates to electricity producers in accordance with the amount of green energy generated. Electricity retail companies would then be obliged to either directly buy a certain amount of such energy or buy the certificates. Mizuho Fukushima, a House of Councilors member and a senior member of the suprapartisan Diet group, called the National Parliamentarians’ Association for Promoting Renewable Energy, said the group’s proposed legislation would have a number of effects.
“Promotion of natural energy, a new industry, would not only offer an alternative power source, but rejuvenate local communities, as people can control power generation in their own region,” she said, referring to Tomamae in Hokkaido, where a windmill capable of generating 20 mw has benefited the local economy.
Fukushima, of the Social Democratic Party, said the development of renewable energy would decentralize Japan’s energy supply system. She said the large membership of the association could be because some Diet members hope to benefit from new interest arising from the generation of green power in their constituencies.
Kazuo Aichi, a House of Representatives member and head of the lawmakers’ association, said the legislators’ movement also aims to make the decision-making process of the government’s energy policy more transparent.
“The bill will require the government to draw up a power-supply target through green energies and obtain approval for it in the Diet, making discussions on the entire outlook of the nation’s energy policy inevitable,” Aichi said.
He added that ultimately it would be desirable for the Diet to decide energy policy goals and what contributions the various sources of energy should make to the total. Aichi, of the Liberal Democratic Party, said the bill may not be submitted to the Diet before June 17, due to opposition from a group of LDP members pushing for a bill to facilitate construction of nuclear-power plants by increasing government subsidies.
“Even if the bill is submitted, it is likely to die because the Lower House will be dissolved for the election,” he said. “However, the bill will be introduced to future Diet sessions once it is presented.”
Tetsunari Iida, chief researcher at Japan Research Institute and head of the Green Energy Law Network, a civic group promoting renewable energy, also believes green-energy movements are unlikely to lose momentum.
Iida, one of three members on the MITI panel representing civic groups, included for the first time, said he believes rapid changes in the energy-policy climate in Japan have begun to affect the “hierarchical and inflexible” decision-making process of bureaucrats and electric-utility officials.
He gave as an example MITI Minister Takashi Fukaya’s announcement in March that the government would cut the number of nuclear plants to be built by fiscal 2010. The government will reverse plans to build between 16 and 20 plants and lower the figure to 13, due to public concerns over nuclear safety and sluggish energy demand. Major companies have been quick to cash in on the new trend.
Tomen Corp., a trading firm that has been engaged in the wind-power business since 1987 and produces 10 percent of the worldwide output of wind power, completed the Tomamae facility in northern Hokkaido last autumn and plans to build another large-scale windmill, with a maximum output of 33 mw, on the Shimokita Peninsula in Aomori Prefecture by the end of 2001.
Marubeni Corp., another major trading firm, plans to build about 20 power-generating windmills in Kagoshima Prefecture with a combined maximum output of 26 mw. It hopes to get the system operational in February 2002 and to sell the electricity output to Kyushu Electric Power Co., company officials said.
Even Tokyo Electric Power Co., a major promoter of nuclear power that considers renewable energy a “supplementary” power source, is contemplating setting up a joint venture in autumn that would sell electricity generated from wind and solar power in collaboration with Sony Corp., company officials said.