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Towns, Industry Look to Wind Turbines for Electricity (March 29, 2006)

Japan's biggest wind turbine in Yokohama (Jiji)
With oil prices at a high level and environmental issues taking center stage, communities and industries in Japan are increasingly looking to wind power to help out with their energy needs. Several cities and towns in Japan have been building "citizens' windmills." Big business, too, is getting in on the act, spending more and more money and time on developing large-scale wind-generation facilities to help offset costs from surging oil prices. Wind power is also viewed as a way to help Japan fulfill its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Clean and Green
A nonprofit organization called Hokkaido Green Fund has spent the last few years building and running large-scale citizens' windmills, which have also been catching on in Europe. The NPO's first windmill, nicknamed "Hamakaze-chan," started operation in September 2001 in the town of Hamatonbestu, Hokkaido, a location buffeted by constant winds.

In subsequent years, the NPO has constructed and started operating five large-scale windmills in northern Japan with the cooperation of local civic groups. Among the locations are Ajigasawa Town in Aomori Prefecture and Ishikari City in Hokkaido.

In 2006, the NPO plans to build five windmills in four prefectures in the Tohoku region of northeast Japan and in the Kanto region, which encompasses the Tokyo metropolitan area. These include facilities in Asahi City in Chiba Prefecture, Kamisu City in Ibaraki Prefecture, and Akita City in Akita Prefecture.

The power-generating windmills stand 60 meters high, and each one can produce enough electricity for 1,200 households. But this comes at a price: the construction costs for a single windmill are in the order of ¥300 million (about $2.61 million at ¥115 to the dollar). To raise such funds, the NPO relies on residents in areas where the windmills are built to cover half the costs, while the remainder comes in the form of subsidies from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). Under this arrangement, there is no financial reliance on power utilities or other private corporations.

A big advantage of this system is that not only does it secure power for households, but any excess electricity the windmills generate is sold to utilities, with the profits going to the investors in the respective projects.

Powering Japanese Industry
As for industrial-use windmills, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. has constructed Japan’s largest wind turbine at its Yokohama Dockyard and Machinery Works in Yokohama. The machine stands 116 meters high and can produce as many as 2,400 kilowatts of power. Performance testing got under way in January 2006 and is expected to last from six months to a year. When that finishes sometime in 2007, MHI plans to take orders from power-related companies to supply them with wind-generated electricity. "We want to expand our businesses related to new energy," comments an MHI official.

Denso Corp., Japan's biggest producer of auto parts, has been focusing its efforts on its "hybrid windmill." Located at the company's Anjo Plant, the facility uses wind generated from ventilation and cleaning equipment at its die-cast factories, in addition to natural wind. The wind turbine, which began operating in early 2006, reportedly produces a maximum output of 2 kilowatts, which will be used to power the lobby and conference rooms at the facility. This form of hybrid technology is attracting attention for its ability to derive energy from "manmade wind," a resource that otherwise goes unused.

Although Japan's wind-generation efforts are still in their infancy, it is a field that is rapidly expanding. The total output of the nation's wind turbines as of March 2004 was 0.67 million kilowatts. Given today's increasingly severe environmental and energy situation, this figure seems likely to grow and grow in the years ahead.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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