Tiny wind tender from giant utility -- TEPCO's 10 MW dubbed a joke

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The world's second largest utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), has shocked the wind industry by limiting its first request for wind power to just 10 MW for 2001. This compares with the 100 MW of wind that major utility Tohoku is calling for this year, an amount which was already regarded as too small by independent power producers.

The Japanese wind industry is calling TEPCO's small tender a "joke." The solicitation seriously questions the intentions of Japan's largest utility regarding clean energy, say industry representatives. "In the long run this small tender is bad for the whole wind sector and the economy in general," says Yukimaru Shimizu of the Japanese Wind Energy Association.

The fears are that TEPCO's tender will set a poor precedent. Further solicitations are expected from several Japanese utilities. Tohoku Electric, Chubu Electric and Kyushu Electric are to invite wind developers to partake in competitive bidding for supply of green power, with the first request for proposals due this month. Four other utilities are considering introducing a tender system. But according to most of Japan's wind developers, it now seems the tender system is to be used by the utilities -- wedded to nuclear power -- to limit wind development rather than encourage it.

TEPCO's tender has renewed industry calls for a national wind policy. A non-partisan parliamentary group, headed by former prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, is working on a bill that would set a minimum standard for renewable energy in power generation portfolios. The utilities, with their political connectons, are expected to block the proposal.

Technically limited

According to TEPCO, the utility cannot cope with too much wind on its system. The Tokyo area which it serves is highly populated with few viable wind development sites and there are grid limitations, says TEPCO. Distant siting of wind farms would require new power lines, making the cost prohibitive, though grid connection costs are borne by the independent power producer, not TEPCO. There is offshore potential in Tokyo Bay, but TEPCO is apparently ignoring it.

The utility says it wants to test consumer demand for green power before committing itself to purchases. It has installed a small wind turbine on a small island and has plans to install more on other islands. TEPCO has no plans to build wind farms on the mainland.

Even the 100 MW of power being requested by Tohoku Electric Power Co, north of Tokyo, is being viewed as a block to wind energy development. Big developers, particularly, find it a problem, since there are already plans to build 500-600 MW in the Tohoku area. Apart from the limit on capacity, developers also say the tender contains severely restrictive conditions. Tohoku's unofficial long term aim is to buy 300 MW of wind power.

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