Analysis: Japan moves forward with offshore plans

JAPAN: A ten-company consortium headed by Hitachi Zosen Corporation (Hitz) has received the go ahead to explore the possibility of an offshore project off the coast of Niigata prefecture in Japan.

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The project is based on 44 5MW turbines developed by Hitachi, the most powerful commercially available turbine in Japan at present. The project is excpected to generate 670GWh annually, most of which is likely to be sold to Tohoku Electrical Power Company, said a spokesman for Hitz.

Hitz was formerly a member of the Hitachi Group, but is now independent.

The Hitachi turbine was judged to be economically viable, especially in the absence of progress on the 7MW SeaAngel from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, noted observers connected to the project.

The turbines will be located approximately 2 kilometres offshore in water depth of 10-35 metres, in an area referred to as the Iwafuneoki. This would allow the developers to use conventional foundations. Local fishing cooperatives raised objections to positioning wind turbines closer to shore, said Chikau Otaki, a section chief in the new energy promotion department at the Murakami City hall.

Fishing cooperatives

Kimiaki Yasuda, a professor of Nagoya University, was among the first to introduce the possibility of an offshore wind power project to Murakami City last year, Otaki noted. Yasuda is also head of the Stakeholder Management Research Laboratory at the university, and his expertise in dealing with local stakeholders is likely to have swayed the fishing cooperatives in their decision, observers say.

"We had good feedback from the fishing cooperatives following Yasuda's involvement," Otaki said.

Other offshore projects either went through extended negotiations with the cooperatives or have yet to reach agreement on project conditions. Fishing cooperatives continue to maintain powerful legal rights over fishing grounds.

The Murakami project must undergo a lengthy official environmental assessment, and construction is unlikely to commence until 2020, with the launch of commercial operations set for 2024, according to HItz.

There is some excitement regarding the project, however, as it is the first example of a commercially-based offshore windpower project in open waters, said Chuichi Arakawa, a professor in the engineering faculty at the University of Tokyo. Previous commercially targeted projects have all been located inside port areas.

Murakami City is promoting the advanced project as an anti-global warming project and as a way to rejuvenate the region. Hits's spokesman points out that it was the municipality that approached the company, and not the other way around.

Yasuda and Arakawa are members of a Murakami City-based assessment sub-committee, along with Takeshi Kinoshita, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, Tetsuro Nagata, former president of Eurus Energy, and Masanori Miyahara, a former deputy director-general of the Fisheries Agency.

It is uncertain at this stage whether a technical adviser will be appointed, but Yasuda and Arakawa are viewed as strong candidates for the position.

The project was passed by the Murakami City, Iwafuneoki wind power generation promotion committee on 5 February, Otaki said. Murakami City lies to the north of the prefecture, and is close to the border with Yamagata prefecture.

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