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Tohoku Electric May Plan Rolling Blackout as Heat Wave Arrives

Tohoku Electric Power Co., the utility that provides electricity to the region in Japan devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, may have to consider rolling blackouts because of higher-than-expected temperatures.

The company planned to buy 800 megawatts from Tokyo Electric Power Co. as of about 8:30 a.m. yesterday and then decided to increase it to 1,100 megawatts because average temperatures in its service area rose to more than its forecast of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit), said Satoru Ishii, a company spokesman, by phone.

“If Tohoku implements power outages, manufactures for automobile and precision machinery may see an impact on their production,” said Tomohiro Jikihara, a Tokyo-based analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “It is all up to the weather now. Temperatures tend to rise quite high in early August and start to be milder later in the month. So, the crucial stage is the next 7 days or so.”

Tohoku Electric has a contract to purchase as much as 1,400 megawatts of power from Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco, this summer to ease the power generation shortage. When temperatures rise by an average 1 degree, demand increases by about 300 megawatts, Ishii said.

“In principle, we are not planning to impose blackouts at this moment, but the situation may change if temperatures go higher.”

Tohoku’s so-called reserve rate for supply -- a measure of capacity -- was 2.8 percent higher than yesterday’s demand, according to a statement posted on its website. A rate below 3 percent prompts the government to alert Tohoku’s clients to further reduce consumption, according to Ishii.

Tight Supply

The company compiles a forecast of the reserve rate for the following day at around 6:00 p.m. every day. At the forecast yesterday evening, the reserve rate was 3.5 percent for today.

At around 8:00 a.m. each day, the utility reviews the forecast, which could trigger rolling blackouts if the rate remains below 3 percent.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest maker of gasoline-electric vehicles, is making the Tohoku region its third Japanese production hub after Aichi prefecture in the central Japan and Kyushu region in the southwest.

Toyota is not taking any measures to prepare for possible blackouts “at the moment,” said Toyota spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto by phone from Tokyo. “We have no problem with power supply in the Tohoku region.”

The government has already ordered industrial power users in areas covered by Tohoku and Tepco in June to cut consumption by 15 percent from July 1 to help cope with a lack of generation capacity following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Tohoku Electric’s four reactors and five of its thermal power generators with a capacity of 6,670 megawatts have been idled since March 11. This was followed by loss of 1,000 megawatts of capacity due to damage to hydroelectric plants caused by heavy rain in late July.

The utility’s 28 hydroelectric power plants stopped operations because of four days of heavy rain from July 27, said a company spokesman Hiroki Enami. This includes a 460-megawatts pumped storage power station, which elevates water to an upper reservoir when extra electricity is available at night.

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