The Union of Kansai Governments, comprising seven prefectures and two ordinance-designated major cities, has accepted the central government’s target of cutting power consumption this summer in the Kansai region by at least 15 percent from 2010 levels.
The target is based on the assumption that reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture will remain offline this summer.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to make the final decision soon on whether to go ahead with the government’s plan to restart two reactors at the plant.
The association of local governments understandably has deep doubts about the safety of the plant. Local governments in the Kansai region should act swiftly and assess how much power saving would be realistically possible as a step to prepare for a summer without nuclear power.
An expert panel tasked with working out an energy strategy for Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka has started considering a range of measures to avert a power crunch this summer.
One measure under consideration would ask businesses to have a recess from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., when demand for electricity peaks. Another idea on the table is to offer free or discounted admission to public facilities to attract people during peak demand hours so that fewer air conditioners would be used at homes.
Shiga Prefecture offers subsidies of up to 2 million yen ($25,000) each to small and medium-sized companies to help them switch to more energy-efficient lighting and other electric equipment. Hyogo Prefecture is considering adopting summer time again as it did last summer.
In the local business community, railway companies are mulling thinned-out schedules, while some major manufacturers are making such moves as increasing production now so that they can cut output in the summer or shifting production out of the Kansai region.
It is the third time the Kansai region has been asked to slash power use, following last summer and winter.
The supply-demand situation this summer is expected to be much tighter. The region will probably have to depend on power supplies from other electric utilities.
What the union of local governments should do first is assess the feasibility of the power-saving target by adding up achievable voluntary cuts in electricity consumption.
If it becomes clear that there will be a gap between power supply and demand even after all possible power-saving efforts are to be exhausted, the prefectures and municipalities should consider imposing mandatory limits on electricity consumption.
The May 19 meeting between the members of the union and Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, underscored afresh deep differences between the local leaders and the Noda administration over whether to bring Oi’s two reactors back online.
Kyoto Governor Keiji Yamada and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto voiced concerns about the fact that the decision will be made by politicians instead of the government’s Nuclear Safety Commission, a panel of nuclear experts.
The union has submitted six specific requests to the central government, including the adoption of new nuclear safety standards of the highest levels and compilation of a plan to deal with a severe nuclear accident.
The governors and mayors are becoming increasingly frustrated at the Noda administration’s failure to make a sincere response to their requests.
In a recent Asahi Shimbun survey, 54 percent of the respondents expressed opposition to restarting the reactors at the Oi plant.
The regional union is expected to formally communicate in writing its concerns about the safety of those reactors to the Noda administration. The government would disregard reason if it forges ahead with its plan to reactivate the reactors under such circumstances.
Instead, Noda should try to work closely with the union by giving priority to the Kansai region among all regions facing a power shortfall to help it achieve significant cuts in power use.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 22
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