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Coal-fired plants as an alternative?

March 28, 2014

Utilities looking at coal-fired plants to ensure stable power supply




With the nation's 48 nuclear reactors offline, utilities are looking to construct more thermal power plants, most of which are expected to be coal-fired facilities that are cheaper to operate than ones fueled with liquefied natural gas and crude oil.

Although a drawback to coal-fired thermal power plants is the large amounts of carbon dioxide they emit, their fuel cost is one-fourth that of oil thermal power plants.

Major electric companies are aiming to secure a stable power supply in the mid- to long term through this new construction, which will see the changeover from aging thermal power plants to more cost-effective ones.

Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co. included the expansion of thermal power plants in their electricity supply plans for fiscal 2014, which were submitted to the industry ministry on March 27. Tohoku Electric and Kyushu Electric will restart plans to build a unit at the Noshiro Thermal Power Plant in Akita Prefecture and a unit at the Matsuura Thermal Power Plant in Nagasaki Prefecture, respectively.

Construction on the thermal plants had been frozen after the electricity demand did not increase as much as previously projected.

Chubu Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co. announced March 25 and 26, respectively, their plans to construct thermal power plants.

“We concluded that we need new sources of power in terms of the economy and the stability of the electricity supply,” said Akihisa Mizuno, president of Chubu Electric.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is seeking to build thermal power plants with a combined output capacity of about 6 gigawatts for fiscal 2014, and some additional ones in the future.

The nation is relying on thermal power generation for 90 percent of its overall power needs following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The accident forced the shutdown of the nation's nuclear reactors for safety inspections.

Many of the 48 reactors are not expected to restart soon, if ever, due to their age or location above active seismic faults.

Others must pass new stringent safety standards before being given the green light for a restart.

Since the Fukushima accident, aged and inefficient thermal power plants have been operating at full capacity to make up for the loss of electricity supplied by nuclear power.

However, the increasing imports of fossil fuels needed to operate the thermal plants have weighed heavily on the finances of the electric companies. Therefore the utilities hope to lower the fuel costs through the construction of more energy-efficient facilities.

In regards to the increased carbon dioxide emissions from the coal-fired plants, the electric power industry will be forced to come up with ways to further curb the emission levels.


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