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Japan

Japan

New committee fuels hope of wind growth

JAPAN: A committee tasked with setting feed-in tariffs for sustainable energy has met three times since the beginning of March, raising hopes that Japan may finally be intensifying efforts to remove obstacles to wind-power development.

Official minutes of the 19 March gathering of a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry committee on procurement pricing and calculation have yet to be released, but a video of the proceedings has been posted on Nico Nico Douga, a Tokyo-based video-sharing website.

Tetsuro Nagata, president of the Japan Wind Power Association, and six other industry representatives including Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of telecommunications and internet company Softbank Corporation, were invited to make presentations to a five-person committee - the first time the committee has accepted external comments.

The March 2011 Fukushima disaster and nuclear meltdown led Japan to question its energy policy and prompted Son's interest in sustainable energy. Last month, his company entered into an agreement with Mongolian investment firm the Newcom Group and the Korea Electric Power Company to exploit the ample wind and solar resources in the Gobi desert, in northwestern China. Known as the Asia Super Grid Initiative, it plans to deliver stable power via undersea cables.

Nagata called for the Japanese government to set wind-power tariffs at Yen22-25/kWh ($0.26-0.30/kWh) for 20 years. Although high by global standards, the figure is considered necessary to offset the high risks associated with wind-power projects in Japan, which necessitate large up-front investments that do not always yield returns.

The committee was re-formed on 15 February after an earlier group was disbanded following concerns its membership was stacked against the interests of sustainable energy.

Kazuhiro Ueda, an economics professor at Kyoto University, is the new chairman, replacing Kosei Shindo, executive vicepresident of Nippon Steel Corporation. Shindo was seen to be a likely opponent of higher power prices that would affect his company's furnace operations.

The committee has now met on three occasions since receiving parliamentary approval on 1 March, boosting hopes that this may deliver some progress.

"I personally believe we have taken the first step towards the introduction of wind power," said Yoshinori Ueda, leader of the International Committee of the Japan Wind Power Association and Japan Wind Energy Association.

But other obstacles remain. "The feed-in tariff alone is not enough," said Ueda.

From October, the government will require wind facilities with generation potential in excess of 10MW to undergo environmental assessments. This is expected to increase delays in bringing wind power online, while transmission network reforms could take between five and ten years, observers say.

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