(Mainichi: February 9, 2016 – p. 4)
The Environment Ministry has decided to allow the construction of new coal-fired power plants on condition of stricter management of emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. This is welcomed by the power industry and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). However, it will not be easy to coordinate the interests of operators eager to build coal-fired power plants, and there is the question of whether reduction of emissions will really be effective.
Major power companies are relieved by the Environment Ministry’s posture because “coal power plants are indispensable for price competition, so this is one step forward.”
With the prolonged suspension of operation of nuclear plants after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, there have been many plans to build power plants using coal, a much cheaper fuel. In light of the full liberalization of electricity retailing in April, the new power companies regard coal-fired power plants as indispensable for competing with the major companies.
Due to the Environment Ministry’s concern that these power plants may increase greenhouse gas emission, rendering it impossible to achieve the emission target, METI has stepped up efforts to cut emission since last fall. It will send out notification by the end of March that new coal plants are required to achieve the highest power generation efficiency possible under current technology. All power companies, including the new market entrants, are asked to make public greenhouse gas emission data.
An official of the Federation of Electric Power Companies stated at a news conference on Feb. 8 that “the framework is in place for all companies and the industry as a whole to be responsible for achieving the emission target.”
The “power industry’s council for a low carbon society” set up by 36 major and new power companies will require all companies to announce emission reduction plans and results. It is in charge of asking companies unable to meet their target to review construction plans for coal power plants or to retrench operations. While these 36 companies account for over 99% of power sales, the council is also calling on all market newcomers after the liberalization of retailing in April to join this scheme.
However, there are also remaining issues. The industry has stopped short of setting a numerical target for each company this time. This is because power companies’ power sources vary widely, so it is difficult to set targets taking into account each company’s unique circumstances.
If the council fails to fully function as the coordinator for setting numerical targets, companies may set easy targets. While the council can ask companies failing to meet targets to take action, it has no legal power, so its effectiveness is uncertain.
While the major power companies are considering lowering operating rate in order not to increase the ratio of coal-fired power generation, ultimately, they may be forced to terminate operation of old coal power plants. It remains to be seen if they will be able to take a united stand.
The power industry as a whole plans to reduce greenhouse gas emission per kilowatt by 35% from the FY13 level by FY30. However, this is premised on raising the ratio of power generation with nuclear and renewable energies. It will require the extension of operation of old nuclear plants or building new ones and the popularization of wind power, geothermal energy and other renewable energies, which are all not easy to accomplish. Unless more efforts are made in terms of renewable energy and energy conservation, reliance on thermal power generation may continue. (Abridged)