A government order to restrict electricity usage appeared to work on its first day of implementation.
Because of expected electricity shortages this summer, the central government issued the order effective July 1 to large-volume users of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. to reduce electricity usage by 15 percent. Large-volume users are defined as those offices and factories contracted for at least 500 kilowatts.
While the government has also asked households and small-volume users to conserve electricity usage as much as 15 percent, that request was not legally binding.
Electricity usage in the area covered by TEPCO was about 15 percent lower than last year, while usage in the area covered by Tohoku Electric was about 22 percent lower.
Peak usage in the TEPCO area came between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. when 41.7 million kilowatts were used. That was 15 percent less than on July 2, 2010, which was also a Friday.
The lower usage this year came even though the high temperature in Tokyo was 33.9 degrees, about three degrees higher than July 2, 2010.
The maximum usage in the Tohoku Electric area came between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. when 9.95 million kilowatts was used. That was 22 percent lower than a similar period last year.
Many companies had already begun implementing energy conservation measures from spring and they simply continued with those measures on July 1.
TEPCO also announced on July 1 its expected electricity supply for this summer. If it does not supply any electricity to Tohoku Electric, TEPCO will have a supply capacity of 56.8 million kilowatts at the end of July and 55.6 million kilowatts at the end of August.
TEPCO officials estimate that even with energy conservation measures, peak electricity demand this summer will reach 55 million kilowatts, meaning the company will have very little surplus to work with.
Although not based on government orders, the Kansai Electric Power Co. and Chubu Electric Power Co. also asked customers to conserve energy.
Electricity usage in the Kansai Electric area was close to 10 percent lower than a similar period last year.
While many major companies implemented measures to cut electricity use, smaller companies as well as those in the disaster-stricken areas had fewer options.
Hashimoto Chuzo Inc. in Tokyo's Ota Ward is a metal casting company that has been in business for 99 years. It manufactures metal parts for semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
Although the company only has 29 employees, it has contracted for 590 kilowatts of electricity, meaning it comes under the government order to restrict electricity usage by 15 percent.
"While we have always made efforts to conserve energy, the order is equivalent to telling us 'Don't work,'" said Hiroshi Suzuki, the company president.
To get around the order, the company has moved its days off from the weekend to Sunday and Monday. The automatic control mechanism on the electric furnace has been reduced by about 15 percent to 500 kilowatts, but it will be operated at full capacity on Saturdays when the government order does not apply.
For companies in the Tohoku region still trying to recover from the March 11 earthquake, the government order could not have come at a worse time.
Oshu in Iwate Prefecture is known for the local specialty of Nanbu ironware. One metal processing company, Oitai Co., manufactures water supply valves and parts for railroad crossings. While orders increased in June as rebuilding progressed in the region, the company reduced the output of its electric furnace by 30 percent from July 1.
Company president Kiyoshi Oikawa said, "I can't ask my people to work overtime since they already work under harsh conditions due to the heat and humidity. We will have to reduce production by 10 to 15 percent in July. I cannot understand why the disaster-stricken areas also have to restrict electricity across the board."
While the order to restrict electricity use also extends to government offices, there was a wide range of goals among central government ministries.
The Environment Ministry has set the highest level, with a goal of reducing electricity usage by 28 percent. In addition to allowing ministry officials to wear casual clothing to work, the ministry has also set up a rotating system of having some workers take a weekday off and come in to work on Saturdays instead.
The ministry official in charge said, "While the target is steep, we want to produce results in our role to encourage everyone to conserve energy."
The Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare have set targets of 25 percent reduction of electricity usage, while the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which actually issued the order to restrict usage, has set a goal of 20 percent.
The Prime Minister's Official Residence has set a goal of 15 percent. In explaining the low target, one official said the large number of meetings as well as visits by foreign dignitaries made it difficult to cut down on lighting.
The Defense Ministry also has set a 15-percent target, but one official said that was because of the large number of equipment used for surveillance purposes that could not be shut off.
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