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Environmental groups are demanding the suspension of a wind power plant project in Hokkaido, saying it could devastate the population of “ito” (Japanese huchen), an endangered species of salmonid freshwater fish.
The Environment Ministry has also cited the need for major revisions to the project.
Japan Renewable Energy Corp. (JRE), a Tokyo-based company affiliated with Eneos Corp., a major oil company, is in charge of the wind power project. JRE has indicated it is open to changes.
“We are aware that the planned site is in the habitat of the Japanese huchen,” a JRE public relations representative said. “Depending on the results of an environmental impact assessment, it is possible to scale down the project site or reduce the number of turbines to prevent negative effects to the environment.”
The rare Japanese huchen is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.
Also called the “phantom fish,” it is one of the largest species of freshwater fish in Japan.
Under current plans, the wind power plant will have a maximum output of 354,000 kilowatts and cover about 18,000 hectares, mainly in the Sarufutsugawa river basin and surrounding areas.
The site straddles Wakkanai, Toyotomi and Sarufutsu.
JRE plans to begin construction in fiscal 2027 for 59 turbines and start operations in fiscal 2032.
‘SACRED GROUND’ SITES
According to a 1998 survey compiled by the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, spawning beds of Japanese huchen were found in 311 locations along the Sarufutsugawa river. Of them, 118, or 38 percent, are in the project site.
“It seems that its spawning beds are also located in other river systems in the planned area,” said Michio Fukushima, a chief senior researcher at the institute. “This is a major threat to ito and its ecosystem.”
In September 2023, the Nature Conservation Society of Japan submitted a set of recommendations to JRE, including suspending the project.
The society said deforestation for the project will reduce river flows, and Japanese huchen could die from the warmer water and oxygen deficiency.
The society is also concerned that earth and sand on the more barren land will easily flow into rivers when it rains, eradicating eggs and aquatic bugs that ito larvae eat.
“Ito are at risk of dying in large numbers. Once the environment is destroyed, it doesn’t return,” said Nobuhiko Wakamatsu, a member of the society.
Local residents have also raised concerns.
“The project is planned on ‘sacred ground’ in river areas where natural ito continue to breed,” said a senior member of a local association set up to protect Japanese huchen. “It will also greatly affect sources for tap water, cherry trout and other fish species, aquatic insects and birds.”
The Hokkaido Branch of the Ecological Society of Japan has also urged JRE to halt the project.
“It could cause an extinction of ito in this region,” Shiro Tsuyuzaki, a Hokkaido University professor, said in a document sent to the company.
Environment Minister Shintaro Ito on Nov. 24 said major revisions are needed if JRE cannot significantly reduce the threat to ito.
Although wind power generation facilities are being built across Japan to create a decarbonized society, some projects have been scrapped after failing to gain consent from local communities.
A total of 2,622 wind turbines had been built around Japan as of the end of December 2022, according to a Japan Wind Power Association survey.
The Nature Conservation Society of Japan said 307 turbines are currently planned around the nation.
“Because Hokkaido and the Tohoku region are ideal for wind power generation thanks to the amount and strength of wind there, the construction boom continues,” said Noriaki Yamashita, a senior researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.
However, a record high 11 projects were scrapped in 2022 due to local opposition. In 2023, 10 projects were canceled by mid-December.
A project planned by Sojitz Corp., a Tokyo-based trading company, in the Otaru area of Hokkaido was canceled in June, while JRE withdrew from a project in Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture.
Tokyo-based Eurus Energy Holdings Corp. in October announced it was abandoning plans to build a wind farm near the Hakkodasan mountain range in Aomori Prefecture.
Efforts are also being made abroad to create harmony between renewable energy development and environmental conservation.
Germany, which is scrambling to realize a decarbonized society, aims to allocate 2 percent of its land area for wind energy. Each state is required to designate sites for the plan to ensure windmills won’t be overconcentrated in specific areas.
“Wind power farms require larger facilities than solar power plants, and some projects prioritize profitability over environmental sustainability,” Yamashita said. “To achieve decarbonization, projects must be carried out in a cautious manner, separating approved development areas from other places where the environment must be protected.
“We have entered a time when a grand design involving land use for renewable energy must be formulated for each region.”
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