When Eco Power Co. President Toshio Katano joined the firm in 1998 from its parent, Ebara Corp., a Tokyo-based industrial machinery manufacturer, he doubted whether the nation’s largest wind power firm would turn a profit.

Yet Eco Power has grown dramatically in a short time, despite the small market, posting a record profit of 527 million yen in the business year that ended on March 31. The previous year, it logged a profit of 236 million yen.

Eco Power currently produces nearly 90,000 kw of electricity at its wind power plants — enough to power about 45,000 households.

The firm’s 26 wind plants include the Mutsu Ogawara plant in Aomori Prefecture, which produces 33,000 kw, Katano explained. The company accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s wind power production, he said.

Demand for wind power has grown dramatically in Japan, Katano stressed.

“More and more people are concerned about safety, stable supply and environmental damage from other energy resources, in particular, nuclear power plants, whose safety is under intense scrutiny in the wake of a series of accidents.”

The nation’s wind power business has also been growing with the backing of government subsidies, increased demand for wind power from major electric utilities and technological advances in the field of wind power generators, Katano said.

According to the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, which was established by the public and private sectors, about 580 wind power generators produced a combined 463,400 kw in the nation in 2002, a leap from 312,800 kw the previous year.

The year in which Katano joined the business saw the firm’s wind power generators produce a combined 35,400 kw, less than a 10th of the nation’s overall wind power output recorded in 2002.

The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy is also mapping out a growth target for the wind power market to generate 3 million kw in 2010, nearly 6.5 times more than the current output.

“We are trying to produce 500,000 kw by 2010 to keep our share in the market, but several conditions are necessary to realize our target,” Katano said.

Eco Power’s generators are mainly in the Tohoku region and Hokkaido — suitable locations in terms of wind velocity and large land areas for accommodating several towers, Katano explained.

But major local electric utilities, to which Eco Power is supplying electricity, have enough electricity from wind power companies, Katano said, noting that Eco Power is now looking for other locations to set up plants, with an eye to avoiding environmental damage.

Certain conditions are required for building wind generators: wind velocity must average 6 meters per second and power transmission lines must be in place.

It is meanwhile getting more difficult to find locations for generators because of increased competition with rivals, including Electric Power Development Co. and Eurus Energy Japan, Katano stressed.

“If the government allowed us to build wind power generators in national parks and offshore, we would be able to produce a larger volume of wind power,” he said, noting technological advances have allowed Eco Power to build offshore wind plants.

Wind power has already become an indispensable source of energy because of its environmental friendliness and safety, Katano said. The government should ease regulations on wind power if it really aims to achieve its 3 million kw target in 2010, he added.

“If the government lifted the regulations, we might build wind power generators offshore near Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya to meet the massive demand for electric power in these populated areas,” Katano said.

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