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Politics

Japan says no to high-emission coal power plants

Tokyo promises efficiency as investors shun fossil-fuel facilities

A coal-fired power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

TOKYO -- The Japanese government will put a halt to new construction of small coal-fired power plants that do not meet efficiency requirements amid a global trend to phase out such facilities.

Construction of most coal plants with a power-generating efficiency under 42% will in effect be banned as early as this year by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. With investors increasingly pulling money away from fossil-fuel facilities, Japan hopes to gain understanding by showing a commitment to energy efficiency.

Smaller coal plants with outputs at or below 112.5 megawatts are currently exempt from an environmental assessment. When Japan opened up the power market in 2016, a raft of new players, including trading houses, started building small power stations. Of the 33 coal-fired facilities that are in the works across Japan, 11 fall under this category, according to the Environment Ministry.

Large coal power stations employ such technologies as ultrasupercritical power generation or integrated gasification combined cycle to meet the 42% efficiency threshold. IGCC reduces carbon emissions by 10% to 20% compared with conventional coal plants.

But plants with outputs of around 100MW cannot support those technologies. So the government relaxes the threshold for small plants that mix biomass with coal to allow construction. The industry ministry will issue a directive to eliminate this loophole except for small islands that rely on such facilities.

For large to midsize coal plants, the industry ministry has set a target of 44.3% efficiency by 2030. The ministry is encouraging plants that do not meet that threshold to gradually suspend operations or shut down.

In a new energy mix plan, Japan aims to have coal-fired plants account for 26% of the country's power output by 2030, down from the 30% envisioned in 2013.

Over 80% of Japan's energy supply comes from fossil fuel. Most of the nation's nuclear power plants have been shut down since the Fukushima nuclear disaster and renewable energy has yet to become a dominant energy source. If renewable energy becomes widespread, fossil-fuel plants can play a key role in filling the supply gap, the ministry believes.

At the same time, with opposition to fossil-fuel power growing in the international community and among investors, Japan plans to demonstrate that only high-efficiency facilities are allowed in the country.

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