Business / Economy

Government asks utilities to secure excess supply

No electricity-saving targets this summer

Kyodo

The government said Friday it won’t set numerical power-saving targets this summer even though concerns about shortages linger, especially among suppliers in the west and southwest.

It is the second consecutive year that the government has refrained from imposing numerical targets to stave off the threat of the rolling blackouts that Japan was forced to resort to after the March 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, which hobbled the nation’s largest utility and led to a nationwide nuclear freeze.

Instead, the government will take softer measures, including asking Kansai Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co. to secure at least 240,000 kilowatts of additional supply capacity by the end of June. Suppliers have various ways to do this, including by increasing the number of contracts requiring reduced electricity usage during peak hours.

The government will also order utilities to do thorough checks on their thermal power plants and report their findings, to reduce the risk of any such plant developing a problem and shutting down unexpectedly. The plants are operating at full capacity.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry says the percentage of aging thermal power plants 40 years or older has doubled to 20 percent, compared with before the nuclear crisis. Unplanned shutdowns are also on the rise.

METI will call for voluntary power saving efforts nationwide from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays from July 1 to Sept. 30, excluding the national Bon holidays from Aug. 13 to 15.

METI chief Toshimitsu Motegi told a press conference that the government is not ruling out setting numerical power-saving targets or imposing other measures later in the season, but will consider them as needed.

The government estimates that Japan’s nine regional power utilities will secure the minimum required power supply capacity when demand peaks in August, based on the assumption that all of the country’s 48 nuclear reactors will remain offline.

But the situation will be tougher than last summer because two nuclear reactors were online at that time and shouldering some of the burden. The reactors, owned by Kansai Electric, have since been idled.

Japan has 10 regional utilities, but Okinawa Electric Power Co., servicing the southernmost island prefecture, is not subject to power-saving requests as it does not rely on nuclear power.

The government needs to assess the nation’s likely power needs before the onset of summer, with heavy air conditioner use, and again before the arrival of winter.

Reactors that have met newly drafted safety requirements are expected to be allowed to resume operation at some point, but nuclear regulators have not yet completed safety checks on any nuclear plant.