New tariff system not all good news

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Japan's leading wind developer, EcoPower Co Ltd of Tokyo, says the lower tariffs for wind introduced three months ago will probably eliminate about ten of its around 60 potential sites. Utilities are now offering 17 year contracts at JPY 11-12/kWh, instead of annual contracts at JPY 15-16/kWh. "We need stronger and more wind on the sites for the wind turbines to generate the same amount of money as before," says EcoPower's Akira Endo.

For windy sites, however, the new system is an improvement, according to Toshiaki Yoshikawa from the Wakkanai city office in northern Japan, which operates two NEG Micon turbines. On Hokkaido island, for example, which has strong winds, the longer contracts are welcome, says Yoshikawa. He adds that the pay back period for a wind turbine on Hokkaido will be about ten years, making financing that much easier. Wakkanai city is planning to install a further 12 turbines.

"I understand the wind developers' concerns about pricing," says Masanori Higashino from the government's New Energy Development Organisation in Tokyo. "But you need to look at the wind before choosing a site."

EcoPower expects to sell about 20 turbines in the year up to March 1999 -- half its original prediction because of market uncertainties. "We already have four orders for 600 kW turbines, but there are several regulatory problems," says Endo. The 600 kW units -- bound for utilities in the Yamagata and Ibaraki prefectures -- are larger than those installed in Japan so far. Not only do they fail to comply with height restrictions, they also produce more power than than the local grids are allowed to handle for reasons of security of supply. "Other wind manufacturers have the same problem and I hope it will be solved soon," says Endo. EcoPower Co has so far sold 22 NEG Micon turbines with a combined capacity of nearly 9.5 MW of capacity. Sixteen, mostly 400 kW units, have been delivered.

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