Japan - Growth to flatline until policy is clarified

JAPAN: Japanese wind power is unlikely to grow in the year ahead, as the new government stalls on creating a concrete energy policy and the introduction of environmental testing requirements increases the burden on developers.

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japan capacity pieDespite the introduction of feed-in tariffs, Japan added only 113MW of wind power from 12 plants last year. This gives it a cumulative total of 2.61GW, according to the Japan Wind Power Association (JWPA).

That increase amounts to little more than 30% of the growth seen in a standard year, and JWPA forecasts that Japan will continue to lag in the global rankings, adding just 14MW more between January and the end of the fiscal year in March.

The Liberal Democratic Party returned to power in December with a powerful mandate to implement pro-business policies. Big business views renewable energy as unreliable, and is calling for "secure energy at low cost", a mantra which is seen meaning a return to nuclear power.

Nuclear returns

In touting a "responsible" energy policy, prime minister Shinzo Abe is also following the business leader's script designed to allow more of Japan's nuclear reactors, mothballed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, to come back online.

"Concrete energy policy is still not in sight," says Yukinobu Uchida, Tokyo-based managing director for Japan of renewable energy consultants GL Garrad Hassan. "If the government cannot come up with a broad framework and tell us what role renewables, including wind power, will play, then my stance is that something is wrong."

Thermal energy sources are likely to continue to make up for power shortfalls, with renewable energy sources, including wind, positioned as an auxiliary power source over the medium term.

In October, the environment ministry introduced environmental requirements that could double time to construction for projects larger than 10MW from 18 months to three years. The Environmental Assessment Law requires wind developers to check environmental impacts such as noise, waste disposal and landscape at various stages of construction.

An 11-company consortium is pushing ahead with the development of the world's biggest offshore floating wind farm in the deep seas off Fukushima as part of the reconstruction plans for the area. However, some local fishing cooperatives are said to be opposed to the construction of the wind farm in areas over which they have traditional and legally-embedded fishing rights.

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