Economy minister Yukio Edano’s comments about the possibility of no nuclear energy this summer have stunned many in the business world, with some companies now scrambling for ways to avoid possible power shortages.
Others say they have already run out of ideas.
"We cannot find any additional energy conservation measures," an official of an electric equipment company said.
Edano told The Asahi Shimbun on Jan. 26 that his ministry was considering measures to deal with a situation of no nuclear power plants operating this summer.
According to calculations by the government's energy and environment council, if all nuclear plants stopped operations this summer, there would be a 7-percent electricity shortage throughout Japan during peak demand. The situation would be more dire in the area serviced by Kansai Electric Power Co., which relies heavily on nuclear power. Calculations show a 25-percent shortage in that region.
Last year, there were estimates of electricity shortages of 7 to 10 percent in the areas covered by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co.
To prevent blackouts, the central government last year called on large-volume users of those two power companies to cut electricity usage by 15 percent. However, Edano said in the Jan. 26 interview that he did not expect the necessity of having to issue a similar order this year, pointing to the shift in electricity generation to other sources as well as the additional room for energy conservation measures.
Last year, many companies used a wide range of measures to conserve electricity, including allowing workers to wear more casual clothing, raising temperature settings on air-conditioning systems and stopping some elevators.
"It would be difficult to implement similar measures as last year because that would inconvenience our customers," an official with a major department store said.
Many steel companies used generators on their plant sites to provide TEPCO with electricity last year.
However, one executive of a steel company said: "We are now using our facilities at the maximum level because of concerns about an electricity shortage. We have no leeway to increase such facilities."
The shift by automakers to working on the weekends and taking Thursdays and Fridays off last year likely led to a decrease in electricity usage of between 2 and 3 gigawatts.
But Toshiyuki Shiga, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said last September that the shift was an emergency measure that was not meant to be permanent.
Some companies use time scales of decades when they consider plant sites and manufacturing plans.
"Unless the electricity issue is resolved, we will be unable to compile business plans," Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), said.
Some companies are already taking steps to deal with a possible electricity shortage this summer.
Daido Steel Co. moved a steel processing operation from its Kawasaki plant to a Nagoya factory at the end of the last year because Chubu Electric Power Co. is expected to be less affected by a possible electricity shortage.
A number of companies in the distribution sector have already signed contracts with power producer and supplier companies.
Edano's comment about the government acquiring management control over TEPCO through a capital injection of 1 trillion yen ($12.9 billion) also raised concerns among electric power companies about a possible radical reform of the sector.
The capital injection by the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund would give it more than two-thirds of TEPCO's outstanding shares. The economy ministry and fund are seeking to obtain common stock with voting rights for that capital injection. But TEPCO executives are trying to unload preferred stock without voting rights in exchange for the capital contribution.
Moreover, Finance Ministry officials are wary about nationalizing TEPCO because that could leave the central government open to risks such as additional lawsuits and another nuclear accident at a TEPCO-operated plant.
Fund officials are considering nationalizing TEPCO for five to 10 years. Of most concern to TEPCO executives is the possibility of restructuring the utility to allow for the separation of power generation and power transmission functions into different entities.
Such a move would lead to greater competition, but could also contribute to the breakup of the other electric power companies.
If TEPCO is nationalized, it would not have the political power to resist such efforts to liberalize the electric power sector and could contribute to a major change in the sector.
- « Prev
- Next »