The Yomiuri Shimbun
The government has decided to lift earlier than scheduled its requirement that large-lot electricity consumers reduce their usage by 15 percent from last summer's peak levels in areas serviced by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co.
The decision was based on the fact that the probability of a serious electricity shortage has become small. The mandatory restriction will end Sept. 9 in TEPCO's service areas, moved up from the initially planned Sept. 22, and was to be lifted Friday [Sept. 2] in places affected by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The latter areas are serviced by TEPCO and Tohoku Electric.
Waning summer heat, along with efforts by the public and private sectors to save electricity, has apparently served as a spur to end the restriction earlier than scheduled.
Starting July 1, the power usage restriction was imposed on large-lot users such as large factories and buildings, to deal with electricity shortages resulting from the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Many companies made various efforts, such as operating plants on weekends instead of weekdays, to balance power saving with production. Electricity-saving movements spread throughout society, including ordinary households, which were asked to reduce their power use voluntarily.
People turned up the temperature settings on their air conditioners and turned off unnecessary lights. The spread of light-emitting diode bulbs and other power-saving devices also gained momentum.
Power saving successful
These efforts prevented planned blackouts like those implemented for a while after the March 11 disaster.
Based on this summer's experiences trying to save power, we should establish a lifestyle that does not waste electricity.
However, it is highly likely that power supply shortages will become serious again in winter, when electricity demand is expected to increase for heating and other purposes.
Since outgoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan has caused unnecessary confusion over nuclear power generation, there are no prospects at this moment for operations to resume at nuclear power plants suspended for regular inspections. If nothing is done, operations at all the nuclear power plants in the nation will be suspended by spring next year.
Prime Minister-elect Yoshihiko Noda said he would not carry over Kan's impromptu denuclearization policy, but pledged during the Democratic Party of Japan presidential race to restart operations at idle nuclear power plants if safety checks are completed. We expect Noda to exercise his leadership to bring this about.
Economic activities affected
Meanwhile, the latest power usage restriction has proved again that electricity shortages would badly constrain economic activities.
Many plants could not manufacture as many of their products as they wanted due to power-saving efforts, even though their orders had at last returned to pre-disaster levels after declining in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Production in the mining and manufacturing industries was steadily recovering since April but lost steam in July. This may have been caused by the start of power usage restrictions.
Observers said some companies are moving their production sites to other countries out of concern there will not be a stable power supply in Japan. We are concerned that the hollowing out of industries will accelerate and lead to fewer jobs.
TEPCO and other utilities made up for power shortages caused by the suspension of nuclear power plants with additional thermal power generation. But this costs 3 trillion yen a year. The extra costs will eventually lead to an increase in electricity charges.
Restarting idle nuclear power plants is necessary for the Japanese economy to fully recover from the damage caused by the disaster.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 2, 2011)
(Sep. 3, 2011)