Japan steps up shift to coal, gas amid nuclear shutdowns

Fri Mar 28, 2014 5:55am EDT

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By Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick
    TOKYO, March 28 (Reuters) - Japan's utilities are again stepping up plans to
increase electricity output from coal and natural gas to replace lost nuclear
power, with a prolonged shutdown of reactors continuing and a rising prospect
that many units may not come back online.
    This week Tokyo Electric Power Co, operator of the wrecked
Fukushima nuclear plant, and other regional monopolies are planning to add
11,000 megawatts (MW) of gas- and coal-fired electrical capacity, according to
company announcements and media reports.
    The difference this time is that the utilities will seek to contract the
building of generators to other companies because their finances have been
strained by the high-cost fossil fuels needed to replace nuclear
units. 
    Three years after the Fukushima nuclear crisis all of Japan's 48 operable
reactors remain shut, with no restarts scheduled.
    "Given the current unwillingness of the government to have stronger support
for nuclear power they have to be prepared for the future replacement," said
Tatsujiro Suzuki, a vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commision, who is
stepping down on Monday.
    Opposition within the ranks of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its
coalition partner New Komeito has held up approval of a basic energy framework
draft that defines nuclear power as an important source of energy.
    Media reports this week said targets for renewable energy had been inserted
into the plan at the insistence of New Komeito, which is opposed to nuclear
power. 
    Japan's nine nuclear operators have been forced to restart ageing and
mothballed thermal power stations, and delay mandatory maintenance on others to
meet seasonal demand spikes, resulting in soaring fuel costs.
    Japan now derives about 90 percent of its electricity from fossil fuel-fired
power, which pushed imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and thermal coal to a
record high last year.    
    A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 hit the Fukushima nuclear
power station north of Tokyo, causing three reactor meltdowns and forcing the
evacuation of 160,000.
    
    NEW POWER PLANTS
    Most of the new construction plans are for so-called "base-load" coal-fired
plants, raising concerns about air pollution, though the utilities are only
allowed to use technologies rated as the best at limiting carbon dioxide
emissions.
    Under industry ministry rules in force since 2012, the main monopolies are
in general required to hold competitive auctions for any new plants that start
operations from April 2019 to reduce costs.    
    The monopolies can bid for the plants themselves or in alliance with other
companies. In some cases, the monopolies can bypass the auctions but will need
to pass government screening to ensure costs have been kept at a minimum.
    Last year's auction for 2.6 gigawatts of coal-fired plants only attracted
bids for 680 MW.    
    The following outlines the plans for new capacity in megawatts. Fuel type is
from company announcements, media reports or Reuters analysis based on
utilization rates.
    
   Company          Plant    Size   Ops start     Fuel    Tender
  Hokkaido    Ishikariwan   569.4     12/2021      Gas       n/a
              Shinko No.2                               
  Hokkaido    Ishikariwan   569.4     12/2028      Gas       n/a
              Shinko No.3                               
    Tohoku   Noshiro No.3     600   2020-2022     Coal      2014
    Tohoku    Joetsu No.1     600   2023-2024      Gas      2014
     Tepco            n/a   6,000     Not set                   
    Kansai            n/a    1500   2021-2024     Coal   2014/15
     Chubu            n/a    1000     2022-23      n/a   2014/15
   Chugoku    Misumi No.2     400  after 2027     Coal       n/a
    Kyushu  Matsuura No.2    1000   By 6/2021     Coal   2014/15
    Kyushu  Toyotama No.6       8   By 6/2018   Diesel   2014/15
 
 (Editing by Tom Hogue)
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