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Softbank, Mitsui to Open Japan’s Biggest Solar Park

Softbank Corp., Japan’s third-biggest mobile phone company, and Mitsui & Co. plan to build and start operating what may be the nation’s biggest solar power plant.

Spurred on by Japan’s incentive program for clean energy and Softbank Chairman Masayoshi Son’s ambition to install more renewable energy in a country that last year experienced the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century, the two companies today signed a pact to build 39.5 megawatts of capacity at a site in Tottori prefecture.

Tottori will be Japan’s largest solar plant when it starts in July, Son said at a briefing in Tokyo today. The phone company also plans a 111-megawatt solar generator on the northern island of Hokkaido, which is scheduled to begin operations in fiscal 2014, according to Softbank.

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, Japan’s government has moved to ease the nation’s reliance on atomic energy in favor of renewables and natural gas. According to a state incentive plan introduced this year, power utilities are obliged to buy electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind at above-market rates. Softbank plans to invest in about 230 megawatts in renewables, mostly in solar.

Softbank was picked by Osaka prefecture to develop an 18.9-megawatt solar plant, the company said in a statement later today. It did not disclose how much it will cost.

Mitsui, which gets about 90 percent of its profit from trading in metals, oil and gas, has helped to arrange for Chugoku Electric Power Co. to buy the electricity from the solar plant, Son said. Mitsui will also take an active role in the project management, Chief Executive Officer Masami Iijima said at the joint briefing with Son.

“The country needs different energy types,” Iijima said. “We want to play our role.”

New Entrants

Japanese trading houses including Mitsui have amassed more than 26,000 megawatts of capacity around the world, with about 300 megawatts of that in their home market. The traders, which until now have acted mainly as fuel suppliers to the 10 power utilities that dominate Japan’s electricity industries, are starting to consider investments in generators at home following the Fukushima crisis.

Marubeni Corp., the Japanese trading house most heavily invested in the electricity industry, was among two companies selected to build and operate what would be Japan’s biggest wind farm in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, the regional government said in a statement yesterday.

Marubeni and Wind Power Energy Co. were each given half of a 680-hectare area off the coast of Kashima port to build 250 megawatts of capacity that may begin operating in 2017, the government said.

Softbank and Mitsui plan to start construction of their solar plant at the city of Yonago as soon as next month. The companies will split the investment equally and are in talks with other parties about joining the project, Son said.

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