Global Cases

A Solar Power Plant Symbolizing the Post-Disaster Reconstruction of Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture

Corporate Communications Staff Explores the World

Mass Media Relations Team, Corporate Communications DepartmentMai Fukada

Joined the company in 2012. Being in her sixth year, she is now in charge of media relations for environment & infrastructure, chemical, and domestic businesses. In her free time she plays tennis, which she started in her first year of junior high school, and golf, which she started in her first year at the company. When she plays golf, she is good at hitting the ball a long way but has difficulty reading the line and distance. For years, she has been saying, "I will score under 100 this year." Her best score is 100.

Summit Energy as a company of the Sumitomo Corporation Group is engaged in electricity retailing centering on power plants belonging to its own group. In June 2017, Summit Energy's second biomass power plant, the Handa Biomass Power Plant, started its commercial operation. Adjacent to the Port of Kinuura in Handa City, Aichi Prefecture, the plant has a capacity of 75 MW, the largest level of output among Japan's currently operating biomass power plants which allows dedicated combustion of biomass(*). In early October, the plant tour for the press took place.

*Dedicated combustion of biomass: A power generation method in which biomass is only used for power generation as fuel

What is biomass power generation anyway?

In biomass power generation, biological fuels called "biomass," including wood chips made from thinned trees, are burned to generate power. Biomass power generation is categorized as a type of renewable power based on the carbon neutral concept; that is, burning wood chips produces CO2 but the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will not change because trees absorb CO2 as they photosynthesize in order to grow. Unlike many other methods of generating renewable energy, biomass power generation is not dependent on the weather, meaning it can serve as a reliable source of baseload power. The Handa Biomass Power Plant is mainly fueled by wood chips and PKS (palm kernel shells), which the Materials, Supplies & Real Estate Division procures widely in and outside Japan.

The power plant building covered by pipes and exhaust vents

A dedication ceremony to celebrate the completion of the power plant

The dedication ceremony to celebrate the completion of the power plant was held at a venue set up nearby. It was attended by companies involved in the project, as well as representatives of TV broadcasters, newspapers, and other members of the press. The ceremony opened with a solemn Shinto ritual intended to bless the completion of the construction work, which had taken almost two years, starting back in May 2016.

During construction, a part of the facility became inundated as a result of a typhoon that hit the area in the summer of 2017. Countering fears of a major delay, construction was completed on schedule thanks to the coordinated recovery efforts of project members, who must have greeted this day with great emotion as they no doubt recalled the obstacles they had overcome to get there.

“The completion of this plant has made the path toward achieving the Minamisoma Renewable Energy Promotion Vision clearer.” said Kazuo Momma, the mayor of Minamisoma City, in his address. Takayuki Hirano, the managing director of Solar Power Minamisoma-Kashima, responded by resolving to “work hard so that the power plant becomes a well-loved member of the local community, and contributes to the recovery and growth of Minamisoma City.” Those of us present got a real sense of how the shared determination among the assembled to rebuild Minamisoma had made possible the completion of the long-awaited facility.

Project members share a firm group handshake

Touring the solar power plant

Following the dedication ceremony, I joined members of the press and other attendees on a tour of the solar power plant. Coming at a total project cost of approximately 22 billion yen, Minamisoma Mano-Migita-Ebi Solar Power Plant is the largest solar power plant in Fukushima Prefecture and among the largest in the Tohoku region. It is what is termed a “mega-solar plant,” boasting an output of 59.9 MW, roughly enough to power 20,000 households.

From my vantage point on a deck overlooking the area, solar panels appeared to stretch out endless to almost fill the entire landscape. There were about 220,000 panels in all. Laid end to end, I was told, they would reach Aomori City in the north. (Minamisoma and Aomori Cities are about 350 km apart, roughly the same as the distance between Tokyo and Sendai.) Needless to say, I was newly impressed by the incredible scale of the power plant. The coastal site receives strong winds, which may raise fears about panels collecting grit and dust carried by gusts. I was assured, however, that solar panel efficiency was not affected by normal accumulations of dust, and that rainfall was all that was needed to keep panels sufficiently clean.

Electricity generated by renewable sources is currently eligible for purchase at a fixed rate under a feed-in tariff (FIT) program run by the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI). Sumitomo Corporation intends to maintain its active role in the operation of this power plant for the next 20 years, continuing its involvement beyond the termination of the current FIT scheme. Covering this project made me aware of how it embodies Sumitomo Corporation’s pursuit of social significance rather than short-term gains, and its commitment to “Harmonious coexistence with the local natural environment,” and “Development of industries and local communities.”
An on-site substation, where the voltage is adjusted before solar-generated electricity is transmitted to Tohoku Electric Power

Growing a business loved by local people

Covering this topic made it clear to me how deeply the project values its relationship with local people. I am convinced that because the rationale for the project is the city’s post-disaster reconstruction, it is designed through and through to serve the community. For example, the power plant is used in environmental education given to children and also as a local tourism resource. It is contributing to local job creation as well by locally recruiting licensed personnel vital to its operation. Also being studied is the possibility of commissioning the cutting of grass—an important task for keeping solar power plants viable on former farming land—to local firms.

For the plant to remain in operation for decades to come, it needs to be rooted in and loved by the local community. Symbolic of Minamisoma’s reconstruction, the sea of solar panels are sure to contribute to the local community over the years to come, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness their launch.

A “sea” of solar panels. The figures pictured alongside it give a sense of the scale.

August 2018

Keyword

  • Japan
  • Electric Power Energy
  • Environment

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