Japan environment minister urges Chubu Elec coal-fired power project be reconsidered

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s environment minister on Tuesday urged that Chubu Electric Power Co’s plans for a major new coal-fired power plant be reconsidered, or even scrapped, amid growing concerns that Japan may miss emissions reductions targets.

Japan's Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon - RTS1923A

In a consultative statement issued to Tokyo’s industry ministry, Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto warned that Chubu Electric’s plan for a 1.07 gigawatt (GW) plant in central Japan should be reexamined if the utility cannot map out concrete steps to cut carbon emissions by 2030 and later.

Final approval for the plant rests with the industry ministry, and the environment ministry makes comments in an advisory role only.

But the statement complicates life for Japan’s power industry at it seeks to build new coal-fired power capacity to compensate for its nuclear sector being still mostly shut down in the wake of the 2011’s Fukushima disaster. Chubu Electric currently plans to begin building the new coal-fired unit at its existing Taketoyo plant site next year.

The tough stance against Chubu Electric’s plant reflects the environment ministry’s growing concern that Japan risks missing commitments made under the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, ratified by Tokyo in November last year. This is the second time that the ministry called for reconsideration of a plan to build a new coal power plant since then.

A Chubu Electric spokesman declined to comment on the environment ministry’s opinion and said the company would closely watch the industry ministry’s recommendation.

The industry ministry plans to issue a recommendation to Chubu over the project by mid-September after taking into consideration opinions submitted by the environment ministry and the governor of Aichi prefecture, where the plant will be built, according to ministry official speaking on Tuesday.

Under Japan’s environmental impact assessment law, government approval for a power plant project is based on an examination of its effects on the surrounding environment.

While the industry ministry handles the process and is authorized to approve or otherwise, the environment ministry can submit opinions twice during the assessment that could potentially influence the industry minister’s decision.

The environment ministry first objected to Chubu’s plan to replace ageing oil-fired units at Taketoyo in 2015, claiming a voluntary plan put forward by the nation’s power industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions would not be effective enough.

In February, Chubu said it would mix biomass with coal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at the plant, but the environment ministry is seeking further measures - including reassessing the entire project.

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell