April 17, 2014 3:19 am JST

Western Japan's power supply seen tightening this summer

TOKYO -- Electricity supply in western Japan is expected to be significantly tighter this summer than last, but power companies will still be able to secure stable supplies thanks to help from a major utility in the east.

     On Thursday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will release projections for the supply-demand situation this summer. These will include expectations for the electricity reserve rate -- the margin by which capacity exceeds peak demand. The rate for six utilities in central and western Japan, including Kansai Electric Power, is estimated at 3.4% -- down 2.5 percentage points from last summer's projection.

     Because nuclear power plants in the area are not expected to return to service, the utilities will receive power from Tepco, the utility serving the greater Tokyo area. This will narrowly ensure a reserve rate of 3%, considered the minimum level necessary for achieving supply stability.

     Supply-demand projections from nine major Japanese power companies will be presented at a meeting of a ministry subcommittee Thursday. The nuclear plant operation rate will presumably stand at zero since Kansai Electric's Oi plant, which was running last summer but is now idle, is not expected to resume operations this summer.

     Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric Power, which previously generated a large share of their electricity at nuclear facilities, will face particularly severe shortfalls. They will be able to receive a combined 580,000kW from Tepco this summer.

     Without that assistance, the reserve rate for central and western Japan would sink to 2.7%, with Kansai Electric's at 1.8% and Kyushu Electric's at 1.3% -- all below the 3% minimum.

     They could face an even more severe supply crunch if a large fossil-fuel-fired plant is taken offline.

     Based on the subcommittee's discussion of the projections, the government will decide on the extent of power-savings requests for the summer. Last year, the government was able to keep specific numerical targets out of the requests.

     Shortages have plagued Japan since the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant brought on by the earthquake and tsunami three years ago.