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2013年9月15日 (日)

ガス市場改革 全面自由化で料金値下げを

The Yomiuri Shimbun September 15, 2013
Full liberalization of gas market should be realized to lower rates
ガス市場改革 全面自由化で料金値下げを(9月14日付・読売社説)

The day when every household can choose its own gas supplier may no longer be a mere dream. An environment should be created to facilitate new entries into the market and boost competition.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has embarked on gas market reform.

It will implement stricter rules on rate calculations by utilities after reviewing the so-called total cost formula in deciding rates, in which a certain profit margin is added to personnel and other expenses. From next fiscal year, the ministry plans to introduce a new system for applications for rate hikes.

The total cost formula has been used for electricity rates, for which standards have been scrutinized, given that costs unrelated to power generation have been included. It is praiseworthy that the ministry intends to similarly scrutinize gas rate assessments to curb rate hikes.

After the rate reform, the next drastic reform plan will be for the full liberalization of the gas market. The ministry is expected to soon start working out the details.

The liberalization of gas sales to large-scale factories and certain other customers started in 1995. The scope of the process has been expanded in stages. Currently, the system covers customers with an annual contract volume of 100,000 cubic meters or more. Even small-scale factories, hotels and hospitals can freely choose their gas suppliers.

With this process of deregulation, companies in such industries as electricity, oil and trading have launched gas businesses one after another. New entrants accounted for 17 percent of the overall gas supplies for large-lot customers in fiscal 2011.

Compared to the power industry, in which the market share held by newcomers stood at only about 4 percent in the same fiscal year, a certain level of progress can be seen in the gas industry.

All customers should benefit

Looking forward, the focal point is the timing of full liberalization of the gas supply for customers with a contract volume of less than 100,000 cubic meters, including general households. The market has been monopolized by major utilities such as Tokyo Gas Co. and Osaka Gas Co.

In the reform of the electricity industry, which began earlier, it has been proposed that the retail market be liberalized from 2016.

Some believe the liberalization of the gas retail market should take place concurrently in 2016, so as to destroy regional monopolies and encourage new entries in both markets. We think this idea is worth considering in terms of facilitating competition on equal footing.

At some point in the future, comprehensive energy suppliers may emerge, such as an electricity company selling both electricity and gas and a gas company selling gas and electricity among other products. As a result of competition with new entrants from other industries, it is expected that the battle for customers, including the lowering of rates, would be accelerated.

Of course, it is essential that a stable supply system be ensured. Securing the safety and convenience of users must be the highest priority.

New entrants likely will develop their businesses by borrowing tanks and pipelines owned by existing gas companies. Consideration should be given in the quickest possible manner to the creation of systems to allow easier entry, such as rules on pipeline usage charges and measures for more than one company to use such equipment in a fair manner.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 14, 2013)
(2013年9月14日01時36分  読売新聞)


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