EDITORIAL: Renewable energy promotion a good opportunity to nurture local ‘sovereignty’


July 28, 2014

A recent survey jointly conducted by The Asahi Shimbun and Hitotsubashi University has found that 80 percent of municipalities throughout the country that responded to the questionnaire are willing to promote renewable energies for regional development.

More than three years have passed since the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. During the period, the local governments have been “deepening” their efforts from moves to review power sources to attempts to reconstruct their areas by themselves.

For example, some municipalities are using the revenue earned from the sale of electricity to electric power companies to operate welfare facilities. Others are increasing local employment by setting up companies to maintain power generation facilities. The number of power plants established by collecting funds from citizens and others in their local areas apparently exceeds 500.

If electricity sales are liberalized in the future, consumers will be able to choose their electric power company or sources of the electricity when they purchase it. To prepare for such a time, some producers in the agricultural, fishery or forestry industries are considering selling electricity directly to consumers in distant areas along with their products.

There are also some moves that go beyond conventional economic activities.

In Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, which was affected by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, an organization is operating not only a solar power plant but also a vegetable farm using electricity from the plant. In addition, it is offering learning opportunities to children in those facilities.

The organization’s representative director, Eiju Hangai, is a former director of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Minami-Soma is his hometown. Reflecting on the nuclear accident, he started the project. His purpose is to nurture people who think and act for themselves through learning of the mechanism of electricity and how to use it.

So far, the development of electricity sources has tended to separate “people who generate electricity” from “those who use it.” In particular, nuclear power has been generated for urban areas where large amounts of electricity are consumed. Places that can serve as good locations to host nuclear power plants have been limited. Therefore, municipalities that can receive benefits from those plants have also been limited.

As for regional development, local governments have so far asked big companies to set up factories in their areas or implemented public works projects with subsidies. One of the typical cases was to ask for construction of nuclear power plants.

Renewable energies have a technical problem from the standpoint of a stable electricity supply. The feed-in-tariff system, in which electric power companies have to buy electricity from renewable energy producers at fixed prices, also has a defect because consumers have to pay higher electricity rates unless costs to develop electricity sources decline.

In spite of that, renewable energies that can be obtained easily in local areas will become catalysts to nurture “sovereignty” in those areas by changing the traditional way of thinking.

If municipalities promote renewable energy projects, they will face various problems and differences of opinions among residents. How will they overcome those difficulties and obtain understanding from them? It will be testing sites for “small democracies.”

A growing number of people are thinking about energies from the context of their areas and lives. We want to support such a move.

–The Asahi Shimbun, July 27

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