Renewables Update

Challenging Energy Policy from the Local

17 January 2014 Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director, Japan Renewable Energy Foundation

According to reports, the cabinet approval of the Basic Energy Plan – originally scheduled for completion in January – has been postponed by the Japanese government. This is because of criticism of the draft Plan, particularly its positioning of nuclear power as an "important base-load power source that will form the basis”. Objecting views have even been expressed by some members of the ruling parties, and the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) delivered a criticism of the drafting process. Although the contents have not yet been disclosed, 19,000 public comments regarding the draft were submitted to the government - despite the fact that the period for submission was over the New Year holidays, an inconvenient time for the public.

From the beginning, the process of revision of the Basic Plan has been forcefully pursued. On December 6th of 2013, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy suddenly presented a “Draft Opinion” to the Basic Policy Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Acceptance of public comments on the draft opened that day, even though discussions of the Subcommittee were still ongoing. On December 13th the draft was revised by the Subcommittee, and the document – already subjected to the public comment process – was replaced. Such a procedure had been previously unheard of.

This farcical revision process for the Basic Energy Plan reveals that the current administration and bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki, the political centre of Japan, completely fail to understand the fundamental changes that have occurred in the country since experiencing the disaster of 3.11. They no doubt presumed that the old style of governance, in which they never had to heed public opinion, would still prevail. But the people of Japan, having experienced the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, can no longer accept decisions on energy policy to be left to a handful of outdated agents with vested interests.

Since 3.11, energy efficiency technologies and the introduction of renewable energy have advanced on an unprecedented scale. It is important to note significant progress in such initiatives also amongst people who previously had little involvement in energy policy. 36 prefectures and 18 major cities have created their own consultative bodies for the promotion of renewable energy. Local businesses and residents in many areas have made their own joint investments to launch solar and wind power generation projects. In early February this year, a conference gathering such “community power” groups from all over Japan will be held in Fukushima. Furthermore, many businesses from other industries are beginning to be involved in the energy business.

The nuclear phaseout is a key issue in the Tokyo gubernatorial election scheduled to be held in February. In response to this, some members of the ruling parties are expressing the view that decisions relating to energy policy, including laws and budgets, belong exclusively to the national government. Such beliefs are nothing but anachronistic. Energy policy is a crucial issue that relates to the lives of all people, as well as to business activities. Thus, it is vital to question it not only on the national political level, but also from the local. The energy supply system will continue to transform from the current large-scale and centralized system to being decentralized, making the role of local municipalities and communities in energy policy decisions even more important. The year 2014 will, and must, be a year to clearly make these changes.

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