Opposition to wind power obstructs growth

JAPAN Japan's much-heralded wind boom in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster is being hampered by delays to the setting of tariffs for offshore wind and significant local opposition to onshore projects.

Japan wind boom: Further delays are expected in the development of onshore and offshore projects
Japan wind boom: Further delays are expected in the development of onshore and offshore projects

These barriers to wind growth were revealed just before Japan went to the polls in December 2012, with the conservative and pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party expected to return to power, ousting the incumbent socialist and pro-renewables Democratic Party of Japan.

Ahead of the election, industry insiders had described Japan's offshore industry entering a boom period with some, such as University of Tokyo engineering professor Chuichi Arakawa, claiming the country has the resources to install up to 20GW of offshore capacity. "This level of offshore wind power capability clearly exists in Japan," Arakawa said.

Japan's most ambitious offshore project to date is from an 11 company consortium, led by import-export firm Marubeni Corporation, aiming to exploit wind potential via a floating turbine in an area about 20 kilometres off the coast of Fukushima.

Japanese construction and engineering companies have also announced plans to build offshore wind farms, while steel makers and paint companies have applied to join wind power lobbies, observers say.

"It's a bit of a boom right now, with everyone rushing in on the belief that the offshore business has good prospects," said Tetsuro Nagata, executive advisor of developer Eurus Energy Holdings. But he says that offshore wind is unlikely to expand as quickly as onshore.

No offshore tariff

Despite the introduction of an onshore wind tariff of Yen23.1/KWh ($0.28/KWh) from July, offshore tariffs are not yet set. In an interview with windpoweroffshore.com in November, Koji Sakai of Tokyo-based manufacturer Nippon Steel & Sumikin Engineering suggested offshore wind would need to pay Yen30-35/KWh to make it a feasible investment.

"Some research institutes are saying that offshore costs will be two to three times more than onshore," said Nagata.

In the absence of a decision on prices it is difficult to estimate costs, Nagata said. "As long as there is no guarantee of a return on a commercial basis, then it will be difficult to take part."

"We have received offers to cooperate, but it will probably be difficult for us to make a gigantic investment at once," he said.

Nagata suggested a gradual approach might be more efficient. "It may be possible to invest after we accumulate knowledge and experience, such as aiding operation and maintenance tasks," he said. "Then we might participate."

Onshore kick-back

In addition to its huge potential capacity, offshore wind's popularity among some developers in Japan is also partly explained by significant opposition to onshore developments.

Survey results announced at the 34th Symposium on Windpower Energy Utilization in Tokyo at the end of November revealed that support for renewable energy sources has risen following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, but the Japanese are not as welcoming when it comes to onshore wind power developments close to home.

Kenji Matsuoka, professor of economics at Kyoto-based Ryukoku University, revealed that while more than 80% of respondents "approved" of large scale wind projects, or "approved on balance", 69.3% expressed "some worries" or "extreme worry" regarding large-scale wind projects in their neighbourhoods.

In the survey, conducted by Rakuten Research for Matsouka, 13% of respondents said they did not want wind installation close by, while 14% suggested they wanted to see large-scale wind farms kept ten kilometres from their homes. Noise pollution was the respondents' greatest concern.

With only two of the country's 55 nuclear power plants online, and oil and gas imports increasing trade deficits, Japan is under pressure to commit to a future involving renewable energy, including wind.

The National Policy Unit, a cabinet-level group reporting directly to the Japanese prime minister, has drawn up figures suggesting that 35% of Japan's power needs could be met by renewable energy sources by 2030 if Japan abolishes nuclear power.

Wind power could provide approximately 10% of Japan's future power needs, experts say, but disagreements exist over the split between onshore and offshore wind.

One estimate has onshore wind providing as much as 60GW of power, compared to just 8GW from offshore wind, but social acceptance issues could make it difficult to achieve such targets, according to Arakawa.

Exploiting wind power potential on the northern island of Hokkaido, the Tohoku area of the north east and the southern island of Kyushu would make it possible to produce 30GW of power, said Arakawa.

But all this speculation might be moot if Japan elects the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party. The result of December's election was unknown as Windpower Monthly went to press.

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