The Environment Ministry has started discussions on a possible revision of its environmental impact assessment system for planned wind farms.
The discussions started after administrative reform minister Taro Kono called for a deregulation of the system to help expand the use of renewable energy sources, which is a pillar of measures for fighting the climate crisis.
Using more renewables, which involve no greenhouse gas emissions, is, in fact, key to realizing a carbon-free society. We are facing the test of how we can expand our fleet of renewable energy facilities while at the same time curbing their negative impacts on the environment and on wildlife.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said it will strive to have renewable energy sources introduced to a maximum extent. It has set the goal, as part of measures against global warming, of having Japan’s net carbon dioxide emissions, with forest absorption subtracted, reduced to zero by 2050.
Aiming for that goal requires, among other things, urgently building up the output capacity of wind power, whose supply levels have hovered between only 5 percent and 10 percent of those of photovoltaic power.
The government’s Green Growth Strategy, worked out in December, also stated the goal of securing an output capacity of up to 45 gigawatts by 2040 in offshore wind farms alone.
There is already talk of plans for developing wind farms in various parts of Japan.
Environmental assessment is currently required for all plans to build a wind farm with an output capacity of 10 megawatts or more.
Under that procedure, the operator of a planned wind farm is required to evaluate its noise and low-frequency sound levels, study its impact on nature, work out a report on the basis of the views of local residents and experts and receive an opinion from the environment minister.
The Japan Wind Power Association, which organizes wind farm operators, has called for a relaxation of that requirement, citing the enormous time and cost it takes to undergo the procedure.
Kono called on the Environment Ministry, during a meeting of a Cabinet Office task force in December, to limit the coverage of that requirement to wind farms with an output capacity of 50 megawatts or more.
There are, however, concerns about harmful effects of wind farms, such as bird strikes, or birds in flight colliding with wind turbines, and a loss of the habitats of rare animal and plant species.
Following the December meeting, the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and the Wild Bird Society of Japan jointly submitted a written opinion to Kono and others to oppose an easing of the environmental assessment requirement.
Curbing global warming, on the one hand, and preserving biodiversity and ecosystems, on the other, both represent key challenges of global significance. Any review of the environmental assessment system should be discussed carefully so as to seek an optimal balance between the two objectives.
In a worrying development, Kono pressed the Environment Ministry to work out a conclusion before the current fiscal year ends in March. He threatened to strip the ministry of its oversight over matters of environmental assessment and transfer it elsewhere if the ministry fails to react promptly.
It appears all too impatient of Kono to demand an answer in a matter of several months, even considering that a review of the requirement has certainly been a sticking point for several years now.
Outside of Japan, environmental assessment is required for wind farms with an output capacity of 50 megawatts or more in certain countries, whereas a similar requirement is regulated by the size, or the number, of wind turbines in other nations.
It is also worth listening to the opinion saying that whether a site is suitable for building a wind farm should be the focus of discussions rather than its output capacity.
Officials should study cases from overseas and discuss what system is suitable for Japan.
We should never forget that expansion of wind farm facilities could be prompted only under an appropriate system of environmental impact assessment that helps improve public trust in wind power generation.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 14