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Japan eyes loosening restrictions on wind power to boost output

The government is set to loosen restrictions on building wind power plants in Japan to boost the introduction of the renewable energy, sources familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The Environment Ministry plans to mandate that only large-scale wind power plants undergo environmental impact assessments. While the deregulation will reduce the time and financial burden on plant constructors, conservation groups worry the measure could lead to deforestation and more endangered birds striking windmills.

Under the current system, wind power plants with an output of 10,000 kilowatts or more are required to undergo the assessment. The ministry plans to raise the output from the current level, the sources said.

Specifics will be discussed by an expert panel that is expected to compile a report by March, according to the sources.

Wind power generation has been subjected to environmental assessment since 2012, when the government started obliging utilities to purchase renewable energy from owners of such power generators at fixed prices.

The Japan Wind Power Association said the environmental assessment requirement has been a major hurdle to the widespread introduction of wind power as the procedure takes four to five years and forces business operators to shoulder hundreds of millions of yen in costs.

The government wants the country to have the capacity to produce 10 million kilowatts of wind power by fiscal 2030. Capacity as of late December stood at 3.39 million kilowatts, or about a third of that figure.

In its basic energy plan approved by the Cabinet in July, the government pledged to promote wind power to further the goal of expanding the introduction of renewable energy.

But environmental groups have warned that the impact of constructing new wind power plants with less stringent regulations could be significant.

Forests are sometimes cut down in order to construct wind power plants and a number of rare bird species, including the endangered white-tailed eagle, have been killed by windmills around the country.

“Deregulation has a major impact on the environment and we cannot overlook the matter,” said an official at the Nature Conservation Society of Japan.