Government looks to reassess feed-in tariff system for renewable sources of electricity

Green energy tariffs draw scrutiny

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

A committee involved with the nation’s energy policy met Wednesday to discuss revisions to the 2-year-old feed-in tariff system for renewable energy.

It will also investigate a utility that recently halted renewable electricity purchases under the system by claiming it didn’t have the capacity to handle the large amounts being generated.

Since the feed-in tariff system was introduced in July 2012, obliging utilities to purchase electricity generated from solar, wind, geothermal, mini-hydro and biomass sources for a fixed price over a fixed period, growth in renewable energy has been rapid.

As of April, about 10 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity has been installed and is underway. Of this, about 7 gigawatts, mostly in solar panels, was installed in fiscal 2013.

But expansion has brought problems. Last month, Kyushu Electric Power Co. announced it was suspending talks with renewable energy suppliers, except for residential solar arrays under 10 kilowatts.

The reason, the company said, was that its grid doesn’t have the ability to transmit generated power from all of the approved projects if they went online, and that there was a risk of overloading the grid and creating instability in the supply.

A subcommittee of the industry ministry’s Advisory Committee for Natural Resources will look into whether Kyushu Electric really can’t handle more renewable electricity, and review grid capacity at the other major utilities. The committee may also allow utilities to go more than 30 days without purchasing renewable electricity, as a way of making it easier to balance supply, capacity and demand.

Under the feed-in tariff program, over 90 percent of the projects approved have been for solar projects. But concerned about over-relying on one source, the government will look at ways to increase the number of other renewable energy projects, especially wind and geothermal. Kyushu has one of Japan’s largest concentrations of geothermal resources, and the government says it wants to prioritize easier grid connections for this power source.

The committee is expected to issue a final report by the end of this year and suggest possible new legislation.

Also to be discussed are proposals for a bid system that gives priority to approval of renewable energy projects that can provide electricity at the cheapest possible rates, and for shortening the period when feed-in tariff rates are revised from once a year to twice a year.

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