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Number of renewable energy plants with local resident involvement tops 1,000

The number of renewable energy plants in Japan that are jointly managed by local residents and communities has exceeded 1,000 for the first time, it has been learned.

    Nagano Prefecture tops the list, with a total of 353 such plants. However, just as notable has been the rapid rise over the past 3 1/2 years of Fukushima Prefecture, which has soared up to second spot with a total of 92 renewable energy plants managed in this way. The significant surge in Fukushima Prefecture is thought to have been influenced by a drive by local governments and residents toward finding safer forms of energy, following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.

    Ever since a jointly run solar power station was set up in Miyazaki Prefecture in 1994, numerous other similar plants have emerged across the country in an attempt to tackle global warming, and to break with nuclear power, using funds from sources such as donations. Furthermore, the shift toward these kinds of energy plants was given an extra boost through the introduction of the feed-in-tariff (FIT) scheme in 2012, under which major power companies are required to purchase electricity generated from renewable energy sources at a high set price for a fixed period.

    In light of this expanding industry, Yosuke Toyota, a chief researcher at the nonprofit organization "Kiko Network," which aims to prevent global warming, researched the subject of renewable energy plants by sending out a questionnaire to about 100 related organizations.

    The survey results showed that after Nagano and Fukushima prefectures, Tokyo has the third highest number of renewable energy plants, at 83, followed by Kyoto Prefecture at 50 and Aichi Prefecture with 45. The survey also revealed that the total number of renewable energy plants in Japan, as of January 2017, stood at 1,028 -- representing a considerable increase compared to the 458 plants at the end of 2011. It was also discovered that the total level of power generated from these plants is 89,488 kilowatts (kW).

    In September 2013, Fukushima Prefecture possessed only three such energy plants, meaning it ranked in 26th place, but since 2014, a firm called Aizu Electric Power Co., based in the city of Kitakata in Fukushima Prefecture, has constructed 48 plants. Similar developments have been occurring in other regions as well.

    For example, it is thought that a local solar energy project driven by residents in the town of Tomioka, also in Fukushima Prefecture, plans to complete construction of a solar energy plant capable of generating 32,000 kilowatts of power by March 2018. Furthermore, Fukushima Prefecture is supporting the local objective of powering the entire prefecture using renewable energy by the year 2040.

    Similarly, in Nagano Prefecture, numerous jointly-run renewable energy plants have been completed, with the aid of the Ohisama Energy Fund Co. based in the city of Iida.

    The situation regarding these plants had been progressing well up until 2015, but since then some challenges have emerged. With concerns such as "solar energy supply outstripping demand, due to excessive requests for power companies to buy such energy," five utilities including Kyushu Electric Power Co. have been holding back on new purchases.

    In 2014, the number of annual new plants peaked at 213, but has since dropped to 138 in 2015 and 52 in 2016. Commenting on this trend, Toyota says, "Risks have emerged with cases where power companies refuse to buy energy, and this has made it difficult to secure funds from financial institutions. Prioritizing the use of renewable energy is rational from both environmental and economic perspectives. The system in Japan for this kind of energy must be improved."

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