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2014年7月22日 (火)

エネルギー高騰 価格交渉力の強化も急ぎたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Urgent measures needed to counter adverse effects of high energy prices
エネルギー高騰 価格交渉力の強化も急ぎたい

With the prices of crude oil and other energy resources hovering at high levels, it is feared that their soaring costs will have an adverse effect on the nation’s economy.

If a surge in energy costs depresses corporate profits and scuttles efforts by companies to make capital investments and offer wage hikes, it will be difficult for the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to achieve its goal of putting the Japanese economy onto a virtuous economic cycle.

The government, therefore, must do its utmost to secure a stable supply of energy and stop energy prices from soaring further.

Due to the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, crude oil has been trading at around $100 per barrel, more than double the lowest figure posted after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Rising crude oil prices have pushed the nation’s average regular gasoline price upward for 12 consecutive weeks and they are now edging closer to a high of ¥170 per liter. Coupled with the April consumption tax hike, higher gasoline prices have surely dealt a heavy blow to household finances.

Accordingly, the prices of light and heavy oils have surged, raising costs for various sectors including the transportation and fisheries industries—both of which use a large volume of fuel—and the laundry industry, which uses organic solvents made from crude oil.

There have been significant ramifications from the steep increases in the volume of liquefied natural gas imported as fuel for thermal power plants substituting for the idled nuclear power plants. The additional fuel cost for thermal power generation is tagged at ¥3.6 trillion a year, draining a huge amount of national wealth out of Japan.

Compared with pre-disaster levels, when nuclear reactors were in operation, electricity charges for households have increased 20 percent, while those for businesses have risen 30 percent. If the situation remains unchanged, further hikes will be unavoidable. A possible acceleration of the hollowing-out of industry is worrisome as more companies could opt to move their production bases abroad due to high utility costs.

Nuclear energy vital

Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant, which has been deemed to have met new safety standards, should resume operations as soon as possible, while the Nuclear Regulation Authority should smoothly conduct safety screenings of other nuclear power plants so that they can be steadily restarted.

Simultaneously, Japan should make efforts to lower the prices of fuel it procures from abroad.

The prices of LNG that Japan imports from the Middle East and Russia are pegged to the price of crude oil, making them about four times higher than that from the United States, where exploration costs have plunged thanks to the so-called shale gas revolution.

The government and the private sector alike must strongly call on LNG-producing countries to change the way gas prices are set.

Major electric power and gas companies are jointly purchasing LNG in a bid to leverage their negotiating power. It is hoped that such a move will spread beyond such firms.

The nation’s self-sufficiency rate in the area of energy, including nuclear energy, has dropped from about 20 percent before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake to about 6 percent, a level lower than that during the first oil shock in the 1970s. From the viewpoint of energy security, the nation is undeniably in a dangerous situation.

It is also urgent to diversify the countries from which the nation procures energy resources by linking up private businesses and the government’s energy diplomacy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 21, 2014)


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