Osaka Gas pulls out of coal-fired power plant expansion plan in Yamaguchi Prefecture:
J-POWER and Ube Industries should reverse their decision to continue
Mie Asaoka, President, Kiko Network
April 24, 2019
On April 24, Osaka Gas announced it would pull out of a partnership to build the Nishi-Okinoyama Power Station, a new expansion plan for a coal-fired power plant in Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Osaka Gas states that it reached this decision after a comprehensive review with its own investment criteria, considering changes in the business environment and future risks involving the electrical power sector. Kiko Network applauds the decision.
Meanwhile, Ube Industries and J-POWER intend to continue with a modified project. Instead of two 600 MW plants, a single 600 MW plant using ultra-supercritical (USC) or oxygen-blown integrated coal gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology is now being considered. However, the only option consistent with the Paris Agreement is to phase out all coal-fired electricity generation by 2030. Even if technical details are modified, including a shift to IGCC, the underlying issues remain the same. J-POWER says it is moving ahead with research and efforts toward decarbonization, and mentions technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilization (CCU). To this, Kimiko Hirata, International Director of Kiko Network, responds: “Relying on technologies that are unlikely to be commercialized by 2030 only justifies the continued use of fossil fuels and high energy consumption, and delays the real efforts that are needed now. It is surprising that they are still trying to proceed with the project. It should be completely canceled immediately.”
For years, Kiko Network, citizens groups, and local communities have been opposing the project. In the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process to date, the proponents said they would conduct the best environmental policies. But the plant would still emit a huge amount of CO2 emissions, and pollutant emission concentrations will be even worse than existing coal-fired power plants. Citizens in the Osaka region have sent post cards to the Osaka Gas president since 2016 calling for the project’s cancellation and have demonstrated at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting, denouncing it for promoting coal projects. This decision by Osaka Gas is the result of these persistent citizen actions. As part of the EIA process, the mayor of Ube City has expressed the opinion that the project should be reconsidered. So have the neighboring city mayors. On March 28, the Minister of the Environment announced new actions and planned to state a critical opinion that he “cannot approve” this project. With this level of criticism, the proponents really have no choice but to cancel the project immediately.
Proponents of the remaining 25 coal projects in the pipeline in Japan should also withdraw from the new expansion of coal plants, which pose so many risks. In the nation’s long-term low-emission growth strategy currently being considered by the government, a coal phase-out was reportedly removed due to opposition from industry. Any strategy to maintain the status quo will not only hamper efforts to address climate change but also be a drag on sound economic growth. The government needs to recognize that its failure to adopt proper policies has resulted in industry heading to the wrong direction. It is time for Japan to adopt a coal phase-out policy to realize a decarbonized society.
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J-POWER, “Review of Yamaguchi Ube Power Project,” April 24, 2019