--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 5
EDITORIAL: Transparency in access to the grid crucial for promotion of renewable energy.

The Diet enacted a law to expand the use of renewable energy sources during this year's regular session, which ran through August.

The law contains a so-called feed-in tariff system that requires electric power companies to buy electricity generated by using renewable energy sources--wind, solar, biomass, the heat of the Earth and small-scale water power--at fixed prices for specific periods.

In Europe, this system has helped to sharply increase the use of renewable energy.

The success of the feed-in tariff system in Japan hinges on how it will be actually operated.

The law says the prices at which utilities buy renewable power should be determined in a way that ensures reasonable profits for power producers.

That means renewable electricity will be bought at various price levels, depending on the kind of energy source and the method of power generation involved.

This is a reasonable approach.

It makes sense to set prices at levels that make renewable power businesses economically viable.

The costs of buying clean power will be passed onto consumers through higher electricity bills.

The law doesn't lay down any rules concerning the expected rate increases. But the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the power industry, has said the rate hikes will be capped at 0.5 yen per kilowatt-hour.

There should be no such rigid limits on rate increases to buy renewable power.

Power rates actually fluctuate more sharply due to factors like changes in oil prices.

Placing too strict restrictions on the scope of hikes in electricity bills would hamper efforts to popularize the feed-in tariff system.

The biggest issue is setting up a connection to the power grid.

While utilities are in principle obliged to allow renewable electricity to be fed into the grid, they are permitted to refuse to do so if there is any possibility of disruptions in stable power supply.

This rule effectively means the current situation will remain unchanged. In Hokkaido, the Tohoku region and Kyushu, many plans to build wind farms have been dropped because the regional utilities have refused to buy electricity from the planned facilities under the pretext of "unstable supply."

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. has said it will not be able to purchase more power from wind, at least for the time being, because it is already buying wind-generated electricity up to the limit of 360 megawatts.

But wind power is the most widely used renewable energy source globally. Both China and the United States generate more than 40 gigawatts of electricity by using wind power.

In contrast, Japan's wind power output is a puny 2.5 gigawatts.

The outlook for wind power generation in Japan will remain bleak if utilities, citing upper limits, refuse to buy electricity produced with wind despite the small overall output.

In order to inject more transparency into this program, it is necessary to build up a system in which independent experts judge the appropriateness of the ceilings utilities set for their purchases of wind-generated power.

The most crucial aspect for the success of the new system, however, is to establish integrated operations of the transmission networks of utilities.

In Japan, electric power companies that enjoy a monopoly on regional power markets operate separate transmission networks independently. Basically, utilities in principle don't supply electricity to other utilities, even if their service areas are adjacent.

This tradition should be changed so that the power grids are operated in an integrated way that allows electricity generated with renewable energy sources in rural areas to be sent to large markets like Tokyo and the Kansai region. That would ensure enough demand for clean power and help avert a situation where a utility's capacity to buy such electricity reaches its limit.

Renewable energy accounts for only 1 percent of Japan's overall power production.

The new legislation should be used to raise the low status of renewable energy in this country while promoting efforts to reduce nuclear power generation, reform the power supply system and develop next-generation storage battery technology.

by kiyoshimat | 2011-09-10 04:21 | 英字新聞

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