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Tepco seeks overseas partners in renewable energy pivot

Fukushima operator plans to move away from nuclear and shrinking Japanese market

Tepco plans to build offshore floating wind farms like this one in France.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings will pursue renewable energy projects worth tens of billions of dollars in a sharp turn away from nuclear power and an effort that will require finding partners abroad, the power company's president told Nikkei on Monday

Tepco aims to develop renewable energy installations in Japan and overseas that produce 6 gigawatts to 7 gigawatts of power, with the operations contributing 100 billion yen ($8.98 billion) in profit. Renewables accounted for only about 15% of Tepco's power output in the fiscal year ended March 2017, less than at other Japanese electric companies. "We must gain competitive advantage in renewable energy," said President Tomoaki Kobayakawa.

"This is not a case where one company does everything," says Kobayakawa. Japan's largest power producer will need to recruit partners internationally to jointly finance the undertaking to the tune of trillions of yen, he added.

Tepco will mostly focus on offshore wind power. "I would like to decide on partners in one year from a wide breadth at home and abroad," said Kobayakawa.

Not only will Tepco construct traditional wind turbine units built into the sea floor, said Kobayakawa, the company will also "take up the challenge" of building floating turbines. Because Japan has deep coastal waters, which do not support fixed-foundation wind farms, floating turbines are expected to take off as a solution.

Tepco's wind farms will first be built around Japan, such as off Chiba Prefecture, where a demonstration project has launched. The company will then expand to other parts of Asia and Europe.


Tomoaki Kobayakawa, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings. (Photo by Wataru Ito)

For hydroelectric power, Tepco will develop sites in Southeast Asia as there are few places in Japan that would support a new facility. That will form the third prong of the renewables operation, together with the overseas and domestic wind power businesses. Tepco is looking to have each of the three components generate at least 2 GW of power.

Kobayakawa pointed out that Toyota Motor and Hitachi generate a large chunk of their consolidated sales abroad. "As a domestic energy company, there are two actions we must take against the declining population and the advancement of energy conservation," he said. One route would be to expand the domestic footprint in gas and similar operations, and the other is to develop overseas power markets.  "We will increase our foreign share," said Kobayakawa.

Tepco's radical change in direction comes in a business environment where a higher earning potential has become harder to find. The company's nuclear power business was able to generate power at relatively low cost, but the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011 forced the shutdown of every single Tepco reactor, which continues to this day.

Reactors 6 and 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture received approval to restart operations last year, but the units remain dormant in the face of resistance from locals. Masahiro Sakurai, the mayor of Kashiwazaki, said in June last year that Tepco has two years to present a plan to decommission reactors 1 through 5 or he won't agree to reactivate the other two.

"I'm aware that this is a problem in which some kind of reply is needed," Kobayakawa said, indicating that Tepco plans to gain local support by providing answers that will satisfy safety concerns and address contributions to the local economy. Kobayakawa declined to offer a concrete proposal, only saying that he understands that Sakurai is not asking to decommission every reactor or scrap them immediately.

It will take 16 trillion yen to cover compensation and decommission costs for Fukushima Daiichi. Tepco said in June that it is exploring dismantling the sister Fukushima Daini plant as well, but Kobayakawa said the company is still weighing a final decision.

"I don't think the risk is high enough for us lay our hands on Fukushima Daini to the point of delaying the work on Fukushima Daiichi," Kobayakawa added.

Tepco is still waiting for the government's answer on what to do with the tritium-contaminated water produced by the reactor cooling process at Daiichi. Kobayakawa said his company will offer the best solution based on the government's recommendation, but offered no further details.

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