The government's pledge to be a net-zero greenhouse gas emitter by 2050 is running into headwinds: smaller power utilities addicted to coal and natural gas.

Regional electricity providers including Hokkaido Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co. said this week they can’t set deadlines to become emissions neutral because it’s too costly to replace power output that would be lost by closing plants that burn fossil fuels.

"The target set by the prime minister is too challenging for us to achieve with technologies available now,” Kohei Satake, the vice president of Shikoku Electric’s Tokyo office, said in a briefing Thursday after the company released first-half earnings. "We cannot declare a net-zero emissions target now.”