By Takashi Kono
More and more offshore wind power projects are moving forward in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is believed to have a great deal of potential for wind power generation, but it has lagged behind other prefectures such as Nagasaki, Akita, and Chiba in commercialization of the power source. Now a serious downturn in the fishing industry, the core of Hokkaido’s economy, has changed the picture.
Yutaka Iida is managing director of Hiyama fisheries cooperative in the town of Otobe, which is located on the coast of the Sea of Japan about an hour and a half by car from Hakodate. He laments, “The current situation is truly untenable. We need to consider a better way to utilize fishing grounds.”
The town once thrived on herring fishing, which earned approximately 1 billion yen for the town in 1995, when a number of fisheries cooperatives were merged into one. Now the town’s income from fisheries has declined to only one-third of that amount and membership in the cooperative has decreased to the same extent.
Currently, Electric Power Development Company (J Power) is preparing to launch a wind power project off the coast of Otobe. The project, which is estimated to cost several hundred million yen, was announced in the summer of 2019. The resulting 70-plus wind turbines built in the area will generate a maximum of 720,000 kilowatts. Starting with a drilling survey in July, the project will be completed in ten years.
Another company interested in building wind power facilities on the Sea of Japan side of Hokkaido is Cosmo Eco Power, a subsidiary of Cosmo Energy Holdings. There is strong wind known as dashikaze that blows along the southern coast of Hokkaido on the Sea of Japan side. Two sites for facilities that would generate 1 million kilowatts each are under consideration: one off the coast of Hiyama, the same location chosen by J Power, and another in Ishikari Bay on account of its relative proximity to Sapporo, the prefectural population center. Hokkaido Electric Power is also planning to build its first offshore wind generation facility off the coast of Ishikari Bay in cooperation with a private wind energy developer.
Offshore wind power has not really taken off in Japan. One reason for this is the difficulty in pursuing it without infringing on fishing rights. However, in 2019, Hokkaido’s catch (based on preliminary reports) was 1.06 million tons, a dramatic decline to one-third of the peak level (over 3 million tons) in the 1980s. The catch of mainstream items such as squid, salmon, and saury, has also been sluggish. Some people blame global warming-induced changes in the marine environment as a contributing factor. If that is the case, the low yield might become a long-term trend.
The Ministry of Environment estimates that the installed offshore wind power capacity in Japan is over 1.1 billion kilowatts. Broken down by area, Hokkaido accounts for 28.5% of the capacity, far surpassing Tohoku (19.0%) as the runner-up. Kenji Okada, the chief of the renewable energy division of the J Power, stresses that “Hokkaido has excellent wind conditions. After technical issues such as power transmission capacity are resolved, the potential for expansion will be great.”
According to the Japan Wind Power Association (Minato Ward, Tokyo), if 100 billion kilowatts of power is generated in Japan by 2030 through offshore wind power, the resulting economic impact could be as much as 13-15 trillion yen. (Abridged)