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Politics

In about-face, environment ministry to OK coal plants

TOKYO -- Japan's Ministry of the Environment looks prepared to ease its opposition to new coal-power plants following efforts by the economy ministry and the industry to address concerns over global warming emissions.

     Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa will meet with Motoo Hayashi, the minister of economy, trade and industry, as early as Monday to reach an agreement that could lead to conditional approvals for several plants. Under a proposed framework, the environment ministry will check the progress that utilities make every year in their plans to cut emissions so that the nation as a whole does not veer off from its reduction target.

     Many coal plants have been proposed since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in order to tap another energy source using relatively cheap fuel. But Japan has targeted a 26% reduction in emissions tied to global warming by fiscal 2030, from fiscal 2013 levels. The national energy mix planned to meet that target allows coal to account for 26% of power output in fiscal 2030. Coal could exceed its allotment if new plants are built while existing ones continue operating.

     This has led the Environment Ministry to oppose five projects since June, including one planned by Yamaguchi-Ube Power Generation, whose investors include Osaka Gas and Electric Power Development, also known as J-Power. But Marukawa has apparently accepted the idea of prioritizing the screening of lower-emission projects.

     To promote emission cuts, the economy ministry will introduce new guidelines for all power companies including newcomers to report annual emissions results. The ministry also will block construction of low-efficiency coal plants by revamping energy conservation regulations. The new rule will allow construction of cutting-edge facilities but stipulate that coal should not exceed 50% of overall fossil-fuel power.

     The power industry set its own target in July to cut emissions per kilowatt of power sold 35% by fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels to 0.37kg. A to-be-established industry entity will monitor each company's global warming strategy to ensure that the target is met.

     The environment ministry would approve projects deemed appropriate based on monitoring of industry efforts in collaboration with the economy ministry. It will incorporate an oversight mechanism in the global warming action plan to be adopted this spring. Two coal plants in Ibaraki Prefecture and two in Fukushima Prefecture being assessed for environmental impact are expected to be approved.

(Nikkei)

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