Hokkaido power station restart to take longer than expected: minister

Reuters, JIJI

The restart of the biggest coal-fired power station in Hokkaido, which was hit by a devastating earthquake last week, will take weeks longer than had been thought, a government minister said Tuesday.

Fully restarting Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s main power plant, the Tomato-Atsuma coal power station, is now expected to take more than a month, industry minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters. Previously he said it would take at least a week to restart.

Cleanup operations have continued since Thursday’s magnitude 6.7 quake, which knocked out power in the prefecture of about 5.3 million people.

Power shortages are hampering efforts to clear debris and restart factories, and the government is calling on residents and businesses to reduce their power consumption by about 20 percent. Power supplies will be tight until Friday, when the 200-megawatt Kyogoku No. 2 pumped hydro-electric power unit is expected to come back online, Seko said. Rolling blackouts may have to be imposed from Thursday if supplies are not adequate to meet projected demand, he added.

Government officials had said Monday that Hokkaido Electric Power Co. wasn’t planning rolling blackouts in its service areas on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The company’s electricity supply capability is currently some 10 percent smaller than normal. The industry ministry has called for power-saving efforts particularly between 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

On Monday, power demand was 15.4 percent lower than usual in the hour from 6 p.m., when electricity demand usually peaks.

The government is considering implementing rolling blackouts, at two days’ notice, when Hokkaido Electric’s excess power supply capacity is forecast to be less than 1 percent.

Under the plan, Hokkaido will be split into 60 areas, and power will be cut to some of them for periods of around two hours.

The power outage on Hokkaido was the worst to hit Japan since the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and has exposed flaws in Japan’s electricity grid.

Supplies have been restored to almost all of Hokkaido’s 2.95 million power customers, Seko said.

All three units have sustained damage at the Tomato-Atsuma power plant, which normally supplies about half the island’s electricity.

The plant’s 350-MW No. 1 unit is expected to restart by the end of September, with the 600-MW No. 2 unit not due back in operation until the middle of October at the earliest and the 700-MW No. 4 unit only resuming operations in November, Seko told reporters.

To help ease tight supplies, Hokkaido Electric has moved forward plans to restart the 200-MW Kyogoku No. 1 pumped hydro unit to Sept. 21, its spokesman said.

Idemitsu Kosan’s refinery, which produces 150,000 barrels per day, sustained some damage to its refining facility from the quake and refining operations are still shut, the industry ministry said.

An Idemitsu Kosan company spokesman in Tokyo said preliminary checks indicated no major damage to the refinery and that the company was preparing to restart the facility. He could not say when operations would resume.

Land-based shipments of gasoline, kerosene and diesel from the refinery returned to normal on Tuesday, the company said.