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Economy

Hokkaido businesses save power to avoid rolling blackouts

Following big quake, local utility struggles to supply enough electricity

A half-lit Seicomart convenience store in Hokkaido. Operator Secoma is reducing lighting at its locations in response to a government request for businesses to limit their power consumption.
A half-lit Seicomart convenience store in Hokkaido. Operator Secoma is reducing lighting at its locations in response to a government request for businesses to limit their power consumption.

TOKYO -- Business activity is gradually recovering in earthquake-hit Hokkaido as the prefecture recovers from an islandwide blackout, but those companies are adopting energy-saving measures to avoid the introduction of planned outages.

The central government has asked companies to cut usage 20% and shift production overnight while the grid remains fragile. Rolling blackouts would harm productivity and other business activities.

Though such companies as Toyota Motor restarted factories Monday morning, as power throughout the prefecture was nearly restored by Saturday night, activity remains below pre-quake levels for many businesses as Hokkaido Electric Power copes with unstable supply.

Peak demand hit 3.83 million kilowatts Wednesday evening, the day before the magnitude-6.7 temblor struck. Hokkaido Electric estimates peak demand at about 3.45 million kilowatts for the time being, given a roughly 10% minimum reduction in power use. The grid was able to supply 3.53 million kilowatts on Monday, leaving a narrow window of 80,000 kW.

YKK AP, which makes plastic window frames at a factory in Hokkaido, will open certain production lines at 8:30 p.m. rather than midday in response to a government request. A 21% reduction in electricity use is targeted.

Hokkaido Railway workers hold up signs at a dimly lit station asking commuters to curb their electricity use. 

Sapporo Holdings partly reopened its Hokkaido plant Monday to canned products. But bottled items will remain closed, since the washing process is energy-consuming. The company also said it is considering nighttime production.

Convenience store operator Secoma said locations would start to reduce lighting and air conditioning to save energy. Hokkaido Railway, or JR Hokkaido, said it would cut down on special express trains from Monday.

Hokkaido Electric's energy savings came to 14.9% as of around 5 p.m. Monday, the utility said, missing the goal of 20% from last Wednesday's evening peak.

The instability has been caused by restoration delays at its coal-fired power plant in Atsuma, which generated roughly half of the prefecture's energy before the earthquake. Hokkaido Electric said the repairs will take longer than a week. But "the results of the inspection will tell whether that is two weeks, three weeks or a few months," President Akihiko Mayumi said.

Hokkaido's appetite for electricity bottoms out in October and crests in the winter months as heating demand grows. The peak this January was 5.25 million kilowatts, 1.4 million kilowatts more than September's maximum.

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