電力全面自由化 効果と副作用を冷静に考えよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 23, 2012)
Think carefully before liberalizing power business
電力全面自由化 効果と副作用を冷静に考えよ(5月22日付・読売社説)

The intended effects and the possible side effects that would be brought about through full liberalization of the electricity retail business must be carefully considered.

An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has reached a broad agreement to liberalize the electricity retail business, including supplies to households.

The liberalization plan is aimed at encouraging the participation of new companies in the business to increase competition and lower utility rates. The plan also calls for abolishing the current system under which utility charges are decided by adding certain levels of profits to the personnel and fuel costs of power companies.

The government plans to submit a bill to the ordinary Diet session next year to revise the Electricity Business Law to fully liberalize the utility retail business as early as fiscal 2015.

Behind this move is the government's and the public's distrust in power companies that have neglected necessary corporate efforts, while remaining dependent on the current system that allows them to monopolize their respective service areas.

In connection with its plan to raise utility charges, an executive of Tokyo Electric Power Co. said, "It's our [vested] right to raise the rates." This insensitive statement drew harsh criticism.

All power companies must realize that such a public outcry is the driving force behind the effort to liberalize utility rates.

But what effect total liberalization will have remains to be seen. In the domestic electricity market, liberalization of retail sales to large-lot users began in 2000. Liberalization has been expanded to users with a contracted electricity volume of 50 kilowatts or more, including small and midsize factories.


Few new participants

Under this system, users are allowed in principle to freely select their power suppliers and negotiate with power companies on rates. But the amount of electricity generated by new participants in the market is between 3 percent and 4 percent of the total. Existing power companies dominate the business in terms of capital and equipment.

If the power retail business is fully liberalized while leaving a situation in which there is no real competition, we fear the monopoly the power companies enjoy will allow them to raise power charges at will.

It is not easy to realize a sound electricity market in which a variety of companies compete freely. To help encourage new participation in the market, a plan is emerging to reexamine the current system.

The plan calls for establishing a nationwide independent organization to manage power transmission between power companies rather than have utilities undertake both generation and transmission of power.

However, some people warn that if transmission is separated from power generation it will become difficult to supply electricity flexibly in response to changes in demand.


Stable supplies vital

Major blackouts have occurred in Europe, the United States and South Korea partly due to the separation of power generation and transmission. The government must investigate these overseas cases thoroughly before deciding to separate generation from transmission.

In the aftermath of the disaster at TEPCO's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, no nuclear reactors have been restarted, causing a power supply shortage. If the electricity retail business is liberalized at a time when there is a supply shortage, power rates are almost certain to soar. A stable power supply must be in place before liberalization is implemented.

Another concern is whether liberalization will lead to supply cuts and rate spikes on remote islands and in depopulated areas, where power transmission costs are high. Calm discussions are needed before resorting to spur-of-the-moment liberalization.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2012)
(2012年5月22日01時20分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2012-05-24 08:12 | 英字新聞

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