Kansai Electric curbs wind farm over noise concerns

TOKYO, Aug 5 (Reuters) - A utility in western Japan said on Friday it will limit planned operations at its first wind farm to take account of residents’ concerns about noise, highlighting a snag in the nation’s efforts to encourage renewable energy.

Kansai Electric Power Co said it would cut the capacity of the wind farm on Awaji Island, about 70 km (40 miles) west of Osaka, to 14 megawatts using seven turbines, and limit nighttime operations to four of the turbines.

The utility, which serves Osaka and surrounding areas in western Japan, had originally planned to build 12 turbines generating 24 megawatts at the wind farm, which starts commercial operations next February.

Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered a radiation crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant north of Tokyo, public concern about safety has prompted a shift away from nuclear power and towards other energy sources.

Parliament is debating a bill to extend a feed-in tariff scheme, which began in 2009 with utilities buying surplus power from house owners who have solar panels on their rooftops.

The extended scheme would require regional power firms to buy all renewable electricity from any source and pass on the cost to end-users.

Feed-in tariffs aim to encourage investment in renewable energy such as wind and solar power by providing long-term contracts for producers pegged to the cost of generation.

Wind power generation capacity in Japan totalled 2,180 MW as of March last year, mainly operated by local governments and wholesale power producers such as Electric Power Development Co (J-Power) and Japan Wind Development Co .

The environment ministry estimates Japan could generate up to 140,000 MW of electricity with wind power, including offshore installations, with a planned feed-in tariff scheme. (Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Michael Watson)