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* 22 pct of Japan firms in poll say they will look at using
new power firm
* That is 17 pct points higher than response to similar
question in Sept poll
* Firms explore options amid uncertainty on nuclear
restarts, future reforms
By James Topham
TOKYO, Dec 10 The number of Japanese companies
willing to consider buying electricity from new providers has
jumped from three months ago, a Reuters poll showed, amid
uncertainty on the restarting of nuclear energy and after
power-sector reforms were approved.
The rising corporate interest in non-traditional power
sellers such as Toyota Motor Corp and Panasonic Corp
could further hurt Japan's regional power monopolies
already reeling from increased thermal fuel costs and the costs
of refitting or decommissioning nuclear power plants.
It comes after the government passed legislation last month
that includes the creation of a national grid operator by 2015
and the liberalisation of the power market for homes soon after,
moves that could lead to a break up of the regional power
Twenty-two percent of 255 big Japanese companies said they
would consider using a new power provider in a question asked
during the monthly Reuters Corporate Survey taken by Nikkei
Research between Nov 22 and Dec 4.
That is 17 percentage points higher than when a similar
question was asked in the September poll of Japanese companies.
"Many Japanese citizens are strongly against the restart of
nuclear power, and earlier there was some hope that it would
change, but it hasn't, rather (anti-nuclear sentiment) might
actually be getting stronger," said Tetsuya Inoue, a senior
researcher at Nomura Research Institute, who reviewed the survey
Japan is currently nuclear free for just the third time in
more than four decades, following the massive March 2011
earthquake and tsunami that triggered reactor meltdowns and
radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi facility and caused the
country to rethink its atomic energy use.
Japanese nuclear operators began applying in July to restart
reactors under new rules drawn up after the Fukushima disaster,
but an industry regulator driven to show a sceptical public it
is serious about safety has made it hard to foresee when restart
approvals will be granted.
"(Nuclear restarts) look to take a long time so companies
are diligently studying other options (for electricity)," Inoue
Regional monopolies such as Tokyo Electric Power Co
and Kansai Electric Power Co supply almost 98 percent
of Japan's electricity, and rules to access their transmission
lines make it burdensome for new entrants.
But with Tokyo pushing to cut high electricity costs by
opening up its market for competition and power companies'
public image battered in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear
crisis, procurement methods for users look set to change.
Sensing an interest in alternative power providers, close to
120 companies have registered with the government to become
licensed power producers and suppliers.
The independents can not only undercut the monopolies by
accepting lower profit margins, but also provide power
management systems and flexible buying plans to reduce prices
and save energy.
Power costs for businesses have risen 30 percent since the
Fukushima disaster, according to the Bank of Japan, and are
likely to keep growing due to utilities' dependence on costly
thermal fuel, increased import costs from a weak yen and the
future costs of nuclear plant decommissioning.
While electricity fees make up a only small portion of total
costs for Japanese firms, any rise is a heavy burden due to the
slim profit margins many face.
(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)