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Japan eyes deregulation to boost wind power plants

Wind turbines in Minamiizu, Shizuoka Prefecture (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government is set to loosen restrictions on building wind power plants in Japan to boost the introduction of the renewable energy, sources familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The Environment Ministry plans to only require larger wind power plants to undergo environmental impact assessment. While the deregulation will reduce the time and financial burden on plant constructors, conservation groups worry the measure could lead to deforestation and more endangered birds striking windmills.

Under the current system, wind power plants with an output of 10,000 kilowatts or more are required to undergo the assessment. The ministry plans to raise the output from the current level, the sources said.

Specifics will be discussed by an expert panel which is expected to compile a report by March next year, according to the sources.

Wind power generation has been subjected to environment assessment since 2012, when the government started obliging utilities to purchase renewable energy from owners of such power generators at fixed prices.

The Japan Wind Power Association said the environmental assessment requirement has been a major hurdle to the widespread introduction of wind power as the procedure takes four to five years and forces a business operator to shoulder hundreds of millions of yen in costs.

The government is seeking to achieve 10 million kilowatts of wind power generation by fiscal 2030, but the output as of late December stood at about a third, or 3.39 million kilowatts.

In its basic plan on energy approved by the Cabinet in July, the government pledged to promote wind power toward the goal of expanding the introduction of renewable energy.

But environmental groups have warned that the impact of constructing new wind power plants with less stringent regulations could be significant.

Wind power plants are sometimes constructed on mountain slopes or by cutting down forests, and a number of rare bird species including the endangered white-tailed eagle have hit windmills around the country.

"Deregulation has a major impact on the environment and we cannot overlook the matter," said an official at the Nature Conservation Society of Japan.

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