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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 May 10 - 16  > Gov’t should stop promoting coal-fired power generation
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2017 May 10 - 16 [SOCIAL ISSUES]
editorial 

Gov’t should stop promoting coal-fired power generation

May 16, 2017

Akahata editorial

Under the government led by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, a number of projects are underway to construct coal-fired thermal power plants in various places across the country. These projects are facing local protests. This type of power plant emits a large amount of the greenhouse gas CO2 as well as NOx, SOx, ash dust, and other pollutants, posing a serious risk to human health and the natural environment.

Abe gov’t promotes coal-fired power generation

The environmental NGO Japan Coal Plant Tracker has a list of projects to construct coal-fired thermal power stations. The list includes projects that were announced after 2012. According to the NGO, a total of 44 plants are planned to be built in 20 of the 47 prefectures in Japan. In Miyagi’s Sendai City, for example, a subsidiary of Kansai Electric Power Company is constructing a plant to sell electricity to the Tokyo metropolitan area. Local residents in Sendai, however, expressed concern over possible health hazards and environmental damage and are now collecting signatures to stop the construction project. Another project is ongoing in three locations around Tokyo Bay. There as well, residents’ groups have been set up in succession in the bay cities of Chiba (Chiba Pref.) and Yokosuka (Kanagawa Pref.).

After the 2011 nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, power companies began viewing coal-fired power generation as relatively cost-effective and profitable. In addition, as the electricity retail market was deregulated and fully liberalized in Japan, major trading companies and steel corporations are entering into the power supply business. With these factors combined, coal-fired power plant construction plans are surfacing one after another.

The rush for coal-fired power generation has been promoted by the Abe government. In 2013, the Abe Cabinet decided on the Japan Revitalization Plan which calls for the full utilization of high-efficiency thermal power generation. In order to achieve the revitalization plan, the Cabinet promised to shorten the screening period for construction and renovation plans of power plants and to take measures to encourage private companies to invest in these projects. In 2014, the Abe Cabinet in its basic energy plan designated coal power generation as one of the base load energy sources along with nuclear power generation. Under the basic plan, the target percentage of electricity supplied by coal-fired power plants in 2030 is 26%, which is almost the same as today’s level and higher than the 2030 target for renewables, 22-24%. The Cabinet expressed its intention to keep burning coal into the indefinite future.

Even high efficiency, coal-fired power generation emits twice as much CO2 as LNG-fired thermal power generation does. The new international framework “Paris Agreement” which tackles global warming sets a target for reducing emissions to “virtually zero” in the latter half of this century. However, the stance of Abe government runs counter to global trends combatting climate change.

The Ministry of Environment in late March pointed out that Japan, if it continues to add more coal-fired plants at this rate, may actually increase the amount of its CO2 emissions and consequently fall short of its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in FY 2030. Japan’s plan for an 18%-cut from the 1990 level is inadequate in the first place. To not accomplish even such a modest target would make it extremely difficult for Japan to face the international community.

France, the U.K., and Canada promised that they will move forward in abolishing coal-fired power. Germany already chose to break with nuclear power and now intends to lower its coal dependency. China put a stop to constructing more than 100 plants last year. Thus, departure from coal-fired electricity is the current world tendency because expected stricter emission regulations may cause their assets to lose all value as they would have difficulty in earning back their investments in coal-fired plants.

Shift in energy policy needed

This year alone, three projects to construct new coal-fired electricity generating plants were suspended in Japan. While meeting with strong opposition from local residents and environmental NGOs, business entities that were to be plant operators explained that they suspended the projects on the grounds of “a decline in power needs” and “a change in the business environment”. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, electricity demand has been decreasing and there has been sufficient electricity even without nuclear power plants operating. In addition, the use of renewable sources of energy continues to grow in the country.

The government should give up its support for large-scale and centralized power supply by coal or nuclear power plants. It instead should focus on promoting energy-use reduction and widely popularizing renewable energy as its centerpiece. It is high time for the government to make a shift in its energy policy in order to depend neither on nuclear nor coal power generation.
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