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Tighter quake-resistance standards hamper wind-power plans

Wind-power companies are complaining that tougher quake-resistance requirements for buildings have made it difficult or even impossible to construct facilities for the clean energy.

They also say that if wind turbines remain covered under the revised Building Standards Law, it would hurt the government’s target for wind-power generation capacity.

The law now requires windmills that are more than 60 meters tall to clear the same quake-resistance screening as those for high-rise buildings.

Of the 59 planned wind-power projects subsidized by the government in fiscal 2006 and 2007, 39, or 66 percent, could not be started or construction was stalled because of the tighter tests and other requirements, according to a survey by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

For 19 of the plans, procedures have been completed to carry over the subsidies into the fiscal 2008 budget because it will be nearly impossible to start or finish the construction work as scheduled.

Six plans have been revised or canceled.

The revised law took effect in June 2007 following a scandal involving former architect Hidetsugu Aneha, who designed condominium and other buildings based on falsified quake-resistance data.

An association of companies related to wind-power facilities plans to ask the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to review regulations on construction of wind-power plants.

An association official said the government should ask itself why wind-power plants built in mountainous areas must have the same quake-resistance strength as skyscrapers in crowded urban areas.

An official of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy said there have been no reports of windmills collapsing in earthquakes, only in powerful typhoons and due to poor maintenance.

But an official of the infrastructure ministry said it is necessary to require the same quake-resistance standards for windmills as those for high-rise buildings.

“We won’t accept the argument that there will be no problems merely because no windmill has collapsed in an earthquake in the past,” the official said.

Previously, wind-power plant projects were approved if they met the same wind endurance and other requirements imposed on advertisement towers and amusement park attractions.

The plants must now be designed so that they would not collapse or be damaged in a devastating temblor that might occur once in more than 100 years.

The plants must also be designed using calculations based on real seismic waves.

The revised Building Standards Law also obligates operators to conduct an underground survey of the planned site for each windmill.

The requirements have increased costs to proceed with plans or are simply too difficult to meet, wind-power operators say.

Japan’s total capacity of wind-power generation stood at 1.54 million kilowatts at the end of 2007, or only about half of the government’s target of 3 million kw in 2010.

The 19 projects for which subsidies will be carried over to the fiscal 2008 budget were expected to have a combined output capacity of about 400,000 kw.

The Asahi Shimbun

2 April 2008