Japan Minister Says She Won't Support 2 Coal Power Projects

  • Comment is first by new minister to express disapproval
  • Environmentalists voicing concern about Japan's coal financing

Japan’s environment minister, Tamayo Marukawa, said she won’t support two new coal-fired stations planned by a unit of Kansai Electric Power Co. amid increasing scrutiny over the use of the most-polluting fossil fuel ahead of Paris climate talks later this month.

The environment ministry has been urging the country’s power industry, which in July set a voluntary goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent from 2013 levels by 2030, to come up with specific measures and rules to achieve the target.

“The voluntary framework needs more work,” Marukawa told reporters Friday. “I can’t endorse the projects at this point.”

The comment is the first time Marukawa has expressed disapproval for new coal-power plants after taking on the role of environment minister in October. Her predecessor, Yoshio Mochizuki, has said he won’t support three other new coal plants as they threaten Japan’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

One of the two coal projects Marukawa said she won’t support is a 1,300-megawatt station in Akita prefecture being planned by Kanden Energy Solution Co. and Marubeni Corp. Kanden Energy also plans a 1,000-megawatt plant in Chiba with TonenGeneral Sekiyu K.K.

Projects Considered

“We are at the stage to consider the project, while closely monitoring the government’s policy,” Tokyo-based Marubeni said by e-mail. “We’d like to refrain from commenting on details as we have yet to reach the stage to assess the feasibility.”

While considering the project, Kansai Electric plans to adopt the latest technologies to reduce environmental impact and seek the understanding and cooperation from the national and central governments and local residents, spokesman Yoshihiro Yamamoto said by phone.

Marukawa’s comments come as Japan faces pressure from environmentalists over its backing of the fossil fuel. In a June report, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental group, and partners, said Japan provided more than $20 billion in public coal finance, more than any country, between 2007 and 2014.

Activists plan a demonstration on Friday in Washington to protest Japan’s public financing of coal projects overseas, according to Friends of the Earth, an American environmental group.

The protest will be held before a meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Export Credit Group in Paris next week where countries will negotiate restrictions on public financing for coal projects, according to the group.

Coal Financing

Asked about recent media reports that the U.S. and Japan have agreed to tighten policy on export support for coal-fired power projects, Marukawa said she is aware of media reports but doesn’t have any details.

Regardless of the environment minister’s stance on the coal projects, it is the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that is ultimately responsible for approving individual coal power projects.

A report earlier this year from the trade ministry assessing Japan’s power supply and demand anticipates fossil fuels will supply 56 percent of electricity by 2030. Fossil fuels accounted for 88 percent of Japan’s power supply in fiscal 2014.

“If there is a place for coal in the mix, we believe the Chiba project is attractive because it will incorporate the latest technology with lower emissions, it is close to demand centers reducing transmission losses,” TonenGeneral said in an e-mail.

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