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Saturday, May 28, 2011

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Sunny side up: Softbank Corp. founder and President Masayoshi Son (center) fields a question during a news conference after meeting with local political leaders in Osaka on Thursday. KYODO

Kansai prefectures on board with Son's huge solar energy project

Staff writer

OSAKA — Seven Kansai prefectures have agreed to participate in a project proposed by Softbank founder Masayoshi Son to turn unused farmland into sites for solar energy panels that would eventually provide the same amount of electricity as 50 nuclear reactors.

Thursday's decision by the Union of Kansai Governments, which consists of Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Tottori, Wakayama and Tokushima prefectures, means 26 prefectures have agreed to participate in the project.

Under the plan, 10 areas in Japan would be chosen to build mega-solar panels that would provide electricity to surrounding areas. When operational, they would generate about 50 million kw to surrounding prefectures, or about 20 percent of Japan's total electricity demand. Son hopes to complete the project within the next two decades.

The decision by the Union of Kansai Governments to take part in the project came just after Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development that Japan was setting a goal of generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources, including solar, by the 2020s.

"Osaka Prefecture is discussing making solar power an obligatory energy source, and it's an effort I support," said Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto at the Kansai Union meeting. Earlier this month, Hashimoto said Osaka and Kansai should shift away from nuclear power and toward renewable energy resources.

Kan promised the OECD that Japan would make efforts to reduce the cost of solar power to one-third of the current level by 2020, and one-sixth the current level by 2030. Solar power cost ¥49 per kwh in 2009, and wind power cost between ¥10 and ¥14 per kwh. Hydroelectric power was between ¥8 and ¥13 per kwh.

Nuclear power officially costs between ¥5 and ¥6 per kwh. But that figure is disputed by Son, who notes it doesn't include waste disposal costs or payments in the event of an accident. Son and alternate energy experts like Tetsunari Iida of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies say nuclear power's true cost, when these additional costs are included, is around ¥15 per kwh, roughly the same cost as nuclear power in Finland.

For Kansai, participation in the mega-solar project and meeting Kan's goal of generating 20 percent of electricity through renewable energy sources presents special challenges. While nationwide nuclear power generates around 30 percent of Japan's electricity, it provides nearly half of Kansai's.

Kansai Electric Power Co., which operates 11 reactors in Fukui Prefecture, has expressed caution toward Son's proposal and Kan's declaration, saying that given nuclear power's prominence in Kansai, it was not feasible to rely so heavily on renewable energy.

Makoto Yagi, president of Kepco and chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, also warned that unless Kepco's reactors currently being shut down for regular checkup were restarted, Kansai, like the Kanto region, would have to cut back on electricity this summer.

"We're seeking permission from Fukui Prefecture to restart those plants that are currently shut down. If they can't be restarted, it's possible Kansai will be called upon to conserve electricity this summer," Yagi told reporters Thursday afternoon.

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The Japan Times

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