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2012年5月 9日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 8
EDITORIAL: Kansai Electric should lead regional power-saving drive

Summer is just around the corner and the outlook for power supply and demand in the region served by Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) during the peak period remains murky.

The Kansai region, which includes the cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, clearly needs to prepare for dealing with the tight supply-demand conditions that would be created if the government's plan to reactivate two reactors at KEPCO’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture falls through.

KEPCO, which is responsible for stable power supply to the region, is supposed to present specific options to ride out the sweltering summer without nuclear power. To save energy, it would need the cooperation of businesses and households.

But the utility has failed to do any such thing. Instead, it keeps stressing an urgent need to bring the reactors at the Oi plant back online. In short, the utility is not fulfilling its responsibility to consumers in the region.


During a May 4 meeting of the energy strategy council jointly established by the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, the senior KEPCO executives present were roundly criticized by council members. They were accused of waiting for time to run out without offering concrete plans to avoid a power crunch so that there will be no other choice but to resume operations of the idled reactors. The utility should take the criticism of the local governments to heart.

KEPCO posted a record loss in last fiscal year because fuel costs increased sharply as it ramped up output at its thermal power plants to compensate for decreased nuclear power generation. We understand the financial difficulty the company is facing.

But there are still strong concerns in the Kansai region about moves to bring idle reactors back to operation.

In addition to Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka prefectures, as well as the city of Osaka, which have made their own recommendations and proposals on the issue, the Union of Kansai Governments, composed of seven prefectures and two cities, has also asked the central government to take additional safety measures before restarting the reactors.

KEPCO should change its approach and initiate constructive talks with the local governments. It must provide whatever information is necessary so the region can avert blackouts due to an absence of nuclear power.

The local governments have also embarked on joint efforts to curb demand for electricity.

During a recent meeting of the union, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto proposed a program to provide financial incentives to companies that cut their power consumption. The incentives would be financed by a new tax that would cost households in the region 1,000 yen ($13) per month, according to his proposal.

It is important to discuss a wide range of measures so that consumers are aware of the situation and can prepare for what they may face.

The union has set up a special task force to hammer out plans to save power. It comprises officials responsible for the matter at the Osaka, Kyoto and Shiga prefectural governments.

In a belated move, KEPCO has started working on measures to rein in demand for power.

One idea under consideration is a combination of rate hikes for peak hours and cuts for off-peak hours.

The utility is also considering the introduction of so-called negawatt power, a concept that regards power saved as power generated, and creating an electricity exchange where households and businesses can trade such negawatts.

We hope the utility will come up with effective and easy-to-use plans as soon as possible.

If the coming summer turns out as hot as the summer of 2010, there is likely to be a 16.3-percent power shortage during peak demand time in the Kansai region, according to KEPCO’s estimate. There may also be a 3.6-percent shortage across all of western Japan, estimates say.

But the days and hours when power demand actually peaks differ from area to area.

If Osaka is hit by an extreme heat wave but the summer in Kyushu proves normal, for instance, there will be considerable room for maneuvering through interchange of electricity between utilities.

A system for more flexible interchange of electricity between electric power companies was introduced last year. In eastern Japan, utilities frequently buy and sell electricity among themselves.

This system should also be used effectively by utilities in western Japan to capitalize on the regional power grid to avoid blackouts.


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