• Kyodo

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Kansai Electric Power Co. said Sunday it has acquired a liquefied natural gas-fired power plant in Chiba Prefecture, the Osaka-based utility’s first electricity station in the greater Tokyo area.

The acquisition of the 110,000-kilowatt plant in Ichihara comes as Kansai Electric prepares for a national reform of the power market that will allow regional utilities to sell electricity to households outside their current service areas.

The thermal power plant had been operated by Ichihara Power Co., a joint venture set up by Electric Power Development Co., better known as J-Power, and Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. A Kepco subsidiary bought all shares in Ichihara Power, probably for several billion yen.

The plant is a “combined cycle” type that achieves high power generation efficiency by using both gas and steam turbines. It started commercial operation in 2004.

Kepco is also considering building coal-fired power plants with other companies in Ichihara and cities in the northeast. It has apparently decided that it should quickly reinforce its power supply sources via the acquisition because it will take time to complete the plants.

As part of the reform, Japan is set to liberalize the household electricity market, long dominated by regional monopolies like Kepco, next spring. Competition is expected to grow as households and other small-lot consumers find themselves free to choose suppliers.