Photo/IllutrationA citizen-led solar power plant in Oami-Shirasato, Chiba Prefecture (Provided by Chiba Future Electric Power LLC)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Around 200 citizen-led groups are operating 1,028 power plants that use natural energy, but government support is needed to further their spread across Japan, an environmental association said.

The nongovernmental organization Kiko Network released survey results showing that the power plants, set up by citizens or communities as of the end of January, had total power production of 90 megawatts.

The NGO defines citizen-led power plants as electricity-generating facilities whose decisions are made by local residents and communities. In addition, citizens take the initiative in investment and fundraising campaigns of those facilities, while part of the profits from their operations are returned to the local regions.

Of the power plants in the survey, 984 use solar power, 30 are relatively large wind power facilities, and 10 are small windmills designed to produce electricity. The remaining four are small-scale hydropower plants.

By region, Nagano Prefecture has 353 citizen-led power stations, the most in Japan. The prefecture started urging residents to invest in green power projects earlier than other areas.

Fukushima Prefecture, which has been emphasizing the use of natural energy since the nuclear crisis triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, hosts 92 facilities.

Tokyo has 83 citizen-led power plants, Kyoto Prefecture has 50, and Aichi Prefecture has 45, according to the survey.

Eighty-eight percent of all surveyed facilities have a power production capacity of less than 50 kilowatts.

Many power stations were set up after the 2011 disaster. The government’s feed-in tariff system for clean energy that was introduced in 2012 fueled the trend.

But fewer citizen-led power stations have been newly installed since 2015.

The fixed purchase price for electricity from green energy declines under the system, and only a restricted number of green power facilities are allowed to supply electricity to local distribution systems because of the capacity limits of power cables, according to Kiko Network.

Yosuke Toyota, chief researcher at Kiko Network, who was involved in the survey, said government assistance is indispensable to increase the number of citizen-led power facilities.

“Japan, unlike other states, does not have preferred investment systems for local residents or mechanisms to increase the purchase price under the feed-in tariff system specially for them, so large companies control a considerable part of Japan’s power generation business based on natural energy,” he said. “A system to support locally initiated projects is essential.”