KIBI, Wakayama Pref. — On top of a 586-meter-high mountain here, white blades of a wind turbine rotate in the strong wind.
The 51-meter-tall power system at Washigamine Cosmos Park is the largest wind power generator in the Kansai region. It began operating in mid-May, and generates 230 kw per hour.
As the central government prepares a bill to promote the use of clean energy, municipalities in the region are moving ahead with their own plans to introduce wind power generation and other clean energy systems.
“We hope the wind power system will raise public awareness of clean energy and bring more tourists to the park,” said Shinji Oka, an official of the Kibi town hall.
The town plans to sell about 80 percent of the electricity generated to Kansai Electric Power Co., earning about 7.8 million yen a year.
The revenue looks trifling in light of the 150 million yen it cost to introduce the system, and although the central government financed half the construction, it will still take over 15 years to pay off.
The idea of installing a wind power system was conceived in 1996 as a way to revitalize the town. The site in Cosmos Park, where the wind speed averages about 20 kph, was picked after studying wind conditions at three possible sites in the town.
Oka said the park, where two small wind- and solar-powered illuminators have been installed, is now becoming a popular spot for visitors.
The park was built in 1987 and has been visited by some 20,000 people a year. Since the introduction of the power generation system, however, the number doubled to about 100 per day, bringing as many as 500 on the weekends, he said.
Kansai now boasts the largest system, but it will be overtaken by Kyoto Prefecture, which plans to install six wind systems by the end of 2001.
Situated on top of Mount Taiko at the edge of the Tango Peninsula, the systems will generate 4.5 mw per hour, the largest operated by any local government. All the electricity will be sold to Kansai Electric Power Co.
Kyoto Prefecture said the installation of the wind power system is part of its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to help mitigate global warming, noting that Kyoto hosted a U.N. conference on global warming in 1997.
For this fiscal year, the prefecture has allocated 800 million yen to help finance the 1.48 billion yen installation cost.
Meanwhile, in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, the municipal government will construct a 95-meter-tall wind power system next March.
Located inside the relatively still flower park near Lake Biwa, the system will mainly serve to raise public awareness of clean energy, a municipal official said, adding that its generated electricity — 1.5 mw per hour — will be used for facilities inside the park.
To raise public awareness, the Kobe Municipal Government is taking a unique approach by involving local residents in the installation of clean energy systems.
In April, the government launched a research team to get people involved with the decisions and financing of energy projects.
The team, consisting of members from Co-op Kobe, the nonprofit organization Community Support Center and Kansai Electric Power Co., aims to install systems using money that locals have invested. The team hopes to have the first such system installed by the end of the next fiscal year.
“It would be easier for a local government just to install clean energy systems on its own. But it is more important to actually get local residents involved in the installation,” said Masatoshi Sumitani, a municipal official. “If people invest their money, they would be more aware of the importance of saving energy and using clean energy.”