Coal as a major power source represents huge step backward
The Asahi Shimbun 13 January 2018 | EDITORIAL
Japan is facing mounting international criticism over its coal-fired thermal power generation goals while the rest of the world is striving to reduce its carbon footprint.
Japanese utilities have a raft of plans to build new coal-fired power plants despite the fact that coal generates far larger amounts of carbon dioxide when burned than other fuels for power generation. These projects could throw a monkey wrench into the policy campaign to stem global warming.
The government should rethink its policy decision to position coal as a “mainstay power source” to stop unbridled expansion of the use of coal in thermal power generation.
Since the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, low-cost coal-burning thermal power generation has been greatly expanded in Japan to compensate for the loss of electricity generated with atomic energy.
Now, coal-fired power plants account for over 30 percent of all electricity produced in the nation. The expansion will likely continue with private-sector utilities planning to build 40 or so new coal-fired power stations in the coming years.
If all these plans are implemented, Japan’s overall coal-fired power generation capacity will increase by about 40 percent, causing its CO2 emissions to surge to levels far above the government’s estimates for years to come.
Japan’s coal expansion drive is criticized roundly by international environmental groups, a situation that is threatening to put the nation into international isolation along with the United States, where the Trump administration is promoting the use of coal as a fuel for power generation.
A major change in the world’s attitude toward coal came in 2015 with the Paris climate accord, which prompted many industrial nations in Europe to accelerate their efforts to reduce coal consumption. China, a leading power consumer, has also switched to curbing its consumption of coal.
In the world of business, there has been a growing trend toward pulling the plug on coal-related investments.
Even if it is unrealistic to try to slash Japan’s coal-fired power generation sharply right now, the government should at least realize that an energy policy that runs counter to the powerful global trend cannot be sustained over the long-term.
Swift actions should be taken to remake Japan’s energy policy through the review of the nation’s basic energy supply plan that is now being debated within the government.
First of all, the government should abandon its official position that coal is “a fuel for important baseload power sources.” This concept was introduced in the last revision to the basic energy plan in 2014.
It should also take steps toward steadily lowering the nation’s dependence on coal, as well as on nuclear power, through redoubled efforts to expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce total energy consumption itself.
Among fuels for thermal power generation, natural gas, which produces less CO2 emissions, should be promoted as a mainstay power source.
The new basic energy plan needs to make these policy shifts clear.
Also important are efforts to cut CO2 emissions from thermal power plants.
The current regulations for thermal power plants based on the energy saving law and other related legislation only provide a weak system to slash CO2 emissions, mainly through requirements of certain levels of efficiency in power generation by utilities.
The system’s ability to lower the nation’s overall CO2 emissions is in doubt.
The power supply industry is making efforts to cut CO2 emissions, but only on a voluntary basis.
Many other countries have introduced a wide variety of more effective measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including a carbon tax, imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels according to the amounts of CO2 emissions, emissions trading and regulatory restrictions on emissions by power suppliers.
Japan should also consider introducing such measures, and quickly.
Stricter regulations on CO2 emissions would make it difficult to operate coal-fired power plants profitably.
We urge utilities planning to build new coal-fired power plants to reconsider their plans in response to the changing business environment.