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2012年11月28日 (水)

電気料金値上げ 再稼働と合理化で負担抑えよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 28, 2012)
Realistic policies the only way to hold down electricity rates
電気料金値上げ 再稼働と合理化で負担抑えよ(11月27日付・読売社説)

It will be necessary for electric power companies to raise their rates to a certain degree for the sake of a stable electricity supply.

Kansai Electric Power Co. on Monday applied for the approval of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry for a hike of about 12 percent on average in household rates. KEPCO also plans to raise the rates for corporate customers--a move that does not require prior ministry approval--by about 19 percent on average. The utility plans to implement the hikes in April next year.

In the wake of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, triggered by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake, the nation's only currently operating nuclear reactors are a pair at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. These reactors resumed operation after safety checkups of the plant, which supplies power to KEPCO's service area.

As fuel costs for operating thermal power plants as an alternative to the suspended nuclear plants have risen, KEPCO has been unable to keep its deficit from expanding.

In applying for the rate hikes, the utility said, "If things are left as they are, we may face difficulty carrying out our primary mission of providing a steady supply of electricity."


Cost-cutting good, but not enough

In step with the rate hike application, KEPCO has also quite appropriately come up with a plan to cut its operational costs, including labor costs, by 150 billion yen a year. We hope the utility will make further streamlining efforts.

To encourage public acceptance, it will be important for the government to carefully check whether costs used for calculating the rates set by KEPCO are correct when considering whether to approve the proposed hikes.

Following KEPCO, Kyushu Electric Power Co. is set to apply for rate hikes on Tuesday. Hokkaido, Tohoku and Shikoku electric power companies may follow suit, depending on the circumstances.

Since TEPCO raised its rates in April, other power companies have managed to avoid rate hikes by tapping into reserve funds. But they seem unable to do so any longer.

Of course utilities should try to limit the size of any rate hikes by thoroughly rationalizing their operations. But it will be difficult for them to hold down rates through restructuring alone. Therefore, it is necessary to utilize those nuclear reactors whose safety has been confirmed.

KEPCO has calculated its requested rate hikes on the assumption that two reactors at its Takahama nuclear plant will resume operation. Kyushu Electric Power Co. likewise is to come up with its rate hike figures on the assumption that it can start up three or four of its reactors again.


Face reality of need for N-power

The government's Nuclear Regulation Authority will decide on new safety standards no sooner than next summer. The government, meanwhile, should waste no time in preparing procedures to enable nuclear reactors to resume operations without a hitch once their safety has been confirmed. It is also necessary to make efforts to build up the acceptance and confidence of local communities regarding the resumption.

If the reactors remain idle, fuel costs will rise above currently assumed levels, making it likely that electricity users will be asked to accept additional rate hikes.

Should rates soar, the impact on ordinary households will be great. The additional pressure on small and midsize businesses whose financial situation is weak may push them to the brink of failure--or over it.

As the hollowing-out of the nation's industry accelerates, with more businesses shifting their plants abroad, it is feared that domestic jobs will rapidly disappear.

As another measure that should be promoted to prevent utility rates from soaring is a strategy of cheaply procuring thermal fuels such as liquefied natural gas. The government has a major role to play in negotiating with resource-producing countries and promoting joint resource development.

However, as long as Japan sticks to the slogan of "a nuclear-free society," it will be at a disadvantage in negotiations with resource-producing nations, who would naturally take advantage of Japan's weakness.

It is thus a matter of great urgency for the government to shift to a realistic energy policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 27, 2012)
(2012年11月27日01時12分  読売新聞)


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