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Utilities should put customers first

June 28, 2012


Editorials: Major power companies must put the customer first



Nine electric power companies came under mounting pressure at their respective shareholders meetings on June 27 to initiate reforms to better serve their customers.

Tokyo Vice Gov. Naoki Inose attended the shareholders meeting of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) as the representative of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the top shareholder in the utility. He criticized a plan by the company, which owns the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, to raise electricity charges, and demanded that the firm further streamline its operations. The metropolitan government submitted proposals on measures to ensure transparency of TEPCO's management and on the introduction of market mechanisms pertaining to investment in plants and equipment.

TEPCO has come under fire for being bureaucratic and dogmatic in its response to demands for compensation over the nuclear crisis and its plan to increase its electric power charges. The metropolitan government's proposals reflect the public's opinion of the company. The proposals were not approved, however, because financial institutions and many other major shareholders sided with TEPCO management.

Nevertheless, the company's plans to accept an infusion of 1 trillion yen in public funds and replace most of its board members were endorsed. Since the company is set to rehabilitate itself by using such a massive amount of taxpayers' money, it must not take advantage of its regional monopoly to continue its arrogant management practices.

It is TEPCO's responsibility to speedily release accurate information to boost managerial transparency and promote competition as part of an effort to reduce customers' electricity bills. The utility should respect the spirit of the metropolitan government's proposals and aid consumers to the maximum possible extent, even though the metropolitan government's proposals were voted down.

In Osaka, Mayor Toru Hashimoto attended the shareholders meeting of Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) as a representative of the Osaka Municipal Government, the utility's top stockholder. The municipal government submitted a proposal to quickly decommission all of KEPCO's nuclear power plants, but the measure was voted down. Still, as shareholders asked questions about the company's plan to resume operations at the idled No. 3 and 4 reactors of the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture, the meeting lasted for a record 5 1/2 hours.

Proposals that nuclear power stations be decreased or completely shut down were submitted at the shareholders meetings of other utilities, reflecting the public's growing concern about the safety of nuclear plants since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and increasing distrust in utilities that operate such power stations.

The national government's failure to work out a clear-cut atomic power policy appears to be fueling such concern and distrust. All power suppliers that operate nuclear plants must remember it is impermissible for them to reactivate these plants without ensuring safety.

The central government is considering reforming the electric power supply system in a bid to put an end to major electric power companies' regional monopolies. We urge all of these companies to take advantage of proposals made by shareholders at their June 27 meetings to transform their management in a way that will benefit consumers.


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