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Energy Crunch: Japan’s Industrial Heartland Faces Blackouts

The Japan Times

Loss of coal-fired plant in Kyushu leaves safety margin razor-thin amid lack of nuclear power

The industrial heartland in western Japan is facing the prospect of electricity shortages over the summer in the absence of nuclear power.

Electric Power Development Co., better known as J-Power, said Thursday it won’t be able to fully restore a 1,000-megawatt coal-burning generator in Nagasaki Prefecture until June 2015. The unit at its Matsuura plant, which serves western Japan, has been offline since March 28, when it was damaged by an accident during an inspection.

A power crunch could hit while Japan is completely without nuclear energy over the peak summer season for the first time in more than four decades, a legacy of the Fukushima disaster of 2011. The nation is working on a thin margin of reserves and the fear is that another plant failure could leave companies and homes without enough electricity.

Absent power from the unit at J-Power’s Matsuura plant, the region with Panasonic Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. factories will barely meet minimum levels required by the government to assure a stable supply, according to projections by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The projections assume the Matsuura unit will remain offline through the summer. METI expects the peak-use period to last from July through September.

“The biggest risk is the failure of an additional thermal power plant,” Akihiro Matsuta, assistant director of METI’s electricity infrastructure division, said in an interview Tuesday. “If one additional power plant fails, the supply-demand balance will be largely affected.”

The risk is exacerbated by the nation’s quirky incompatibility between the eastern and western power grids, which carry electricity at different frequencies.

To lift western Japan’s cushion for protection from blackouts — it’s reserve margin — above the minimum of 3 percent excess capacity, the region will draw power from the east over a network of frequency converters operating at a level seldom reached during normal operations, Matsuta said.

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