Utility green fund under suspicion

A Japanese environmental citizens group is opposing a new utility "green fund," claiming it is no more than an attempt to forestall the passing of a new law requiring utilities to buy electricity generated by solar and wind plant. The Japanese federation of electric utilities opposes the proposed law, saying that such legal compulsion undermines any incentive that power companies have to cut their costs. Instead, the federation prefers to push voluntary measures such as the newly established green fund.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) and six other Japanese utility companies started the fund together with trading firms Sumitomo and Mitsui, Sakura Bank and Japan Wind Power Development Co. The fund, Japan Natural Energy Co, is described as a bridge between power generation companies and customers who want to support alternative energy.

Through advertisement campaigns, Natural Energy has invited individuals and companies to shoulder part of the burden of investing in alternative energy plants by paying a monthly donation of ´500 ($4.50). The money is intended to subsidise wind or solar plants as well as to compensate utilities for the higher cost of green energy production. TEPCO says the campaign aims to get contributions from one out of every 1000 households by March.

The citizens' group, People's Forum for Renewable Energy, has mixed feelings about the fund, however. "Although we have been looking forward to a fund like this in principle, we cannot give this our unqualified support," says Ken Tsuzuku from the group to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Tsuzuku praises the program for raising public awareness, but has doubts about its effectiveness and commitment to a cleaner world. Without a clear goal, he says, citizen enthusiasm is bound to shrivel. It is not clear how much money the fund will attract, or even how much of it will be used to buy green power. It will be an "empty gesture" that only achieves cheap energy for the power companies, he fears.