The Yomiuri ShimbunOne month has passed since a massive earthquake with a maximum intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale hit Hokkaido.
More than 14,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged, displacing a large number of people, many of whom are still living in shelters. The damage to infrastructure, including roads, and industry-related facilities amounted to about ¥400 billion. Aftershocks have not ceased in areas near the focus of the Sept. 6 earthquake. Strict vigilance is called for.
The government will submit a supplementary budget bill to an extraordinary Diet session this autumn for restoration and reconstruction of the earthquake-stricken areas. Diet approval for, and implementation of, the extra budget should be promoted steadily.
The power outages that extended over all of Hokkaido have been resolved, making a power supply crisis a distant possibility for now. However, the situation in which the power supply is based on full mobilization of old power generation plants is expected to continue.
Hokkaido Electric Power Co. (HEPCO) must restart the No. 2 generator of its suspended Tomato-Atsuma thermal power plant as soon as possible.
Businesses and households in Hokkaido are called on to remember to make power-saving efforts in preparation for the winter season, when electricity consumption increases due to the use of heaters.
It is imperative to investigate the process by which blackouts extended over the entire Hokkaido area and establish a system to ensure a stable power supply.
The primary factor behind the across-the-board blackouts is that HEPCO relied on the Tomato-Atsuma plant for about half of its electricity supply. In the background is HEPCO’s fragile power supply system.
Learn from outages
There are no prospects for restarting the Tomari nuclear power station, which has the largest supply capacity among HEPCO power plants, because the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety screening has been prolonged. Many of HEPCO’s thermal power plants are at risk of failing due to the aging of their facilities.
The capacity of the power system interconnection between Honshu and Hokkaido is small, so HEPCO is in a different situation from power utilities that operate in Honshu, which can receive the benefits of power interchange more easily.
To ramp up its power supply capacity, HEPCO planned to begin operation next February of a new thermal power plant using liquefied natural gas. Expansion of the power interchange capacity was also scheduled, but was not completed before the disaster.
Intensified competition brought about by the liberalization of power retailing could be behind HEPCO’s excessive reliance on the Tomato-Atsuma plant. The generation cost is low at the plant because it is coal-fired.
It also cannot be overlooked that the increased percentage used of renewable energy sources, such as sunlight and wind power, makes it difficult to make demand-supply adjustments for electricity.
The volume of electricity generated by renewable energy plunges depending on weather conditions. Unless other power generation sources are secured quickly to make up for this deficiency, the frequency of the overall power system will become unstable, thereby triggering risks of power outages.
There are abundant facilities in Hokkaido for solar power and wind power generation, but they have not been used sufficiently due to a shortage of complementary power sources.
Efforts must be urgently promoted to create an environment in which renewable energy can be utilized to the maximum, including the development and prevalence of large-capacity storage batteries.
Based on lessons learned from the power outages in Hokkaido, major power utilities need to work toward establishing a power supply system that is resilient against disasters.