Renewables and Coal, Japan and Poland – 5/30/16

Poland and Japan: Two very different countries and with very different approaches to coal and renewable energy.

Environmental groups urged the Japanese government to announce a shift away from fossil-fuel financing ahead of the G-7 meeting to no avail.

“As the President of the G7, Japan has an obligation to be a leader, not a laggard on climate,” the environmentalists said in a petition. “First, Japan must stop subsidizing fossil fuels overseas. On the home front, it is time for Japan to reject the fossil fuel and nuclear technologies of last century and instead embrace a clean and sustainable energy future.”

Japan’s energy policy is under close scrutiny from environmentalists because of its reliance on and support for coal. The country has plans for 49 new coal-fired power projects even as some developed countries are shifting away from coal to reduce emissions and health risks. While resource-poor Japan has been trying to diversify its energy sources, the country’s leadership have held fast to the idea that coal would make up 26% of the nation’s power output in 2030 due to the closure of Japan’s nuclear capacity following the Fukushima disaster.

Yet, Japan’s program to encourage more clean sources of energy is starting to show some promising results, with the latest government data showing that the nation produced 45% more electricity from renewables like solar and wind for the fiscal year ending in March compared with a year earlier. Clean energy output, excluding hydro power, increased to 39.2 TW-hours in the 12 months ended March 31, according to data released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Solar outpaced other renewable sources, increasing 61 % to 31.3 TW-hours while wind rose 7% to 5.4 TW-hours. The Fukushima nuclear plant produced 29.3 TW-hours in 2010 before the disaster, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Japan derived 4.7% of its electricity from renewables last fiscal year when hydro isn’t included, according to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan. The government aims bring that number up to 14% by 2030.

In contrast, Poland’s controversial parliament approved a bill that introduces extra requirements for building wind parks as it aims to curb its booming wind industry that is hastening the demise of its loss-making coal industry.

The bill, put forward by the governing Law & Justice party, forces new turbines to be located further away from homes and would halt some new projects after a record expansion of wind energy last year. Poland, Europe’s top coal producer, notched up the continent’s second-highest number of wind-power installations last year with 1.26 GW of new capacity installed. The country now has 5.6 GW of installed wind capacity.

“We want to eliminate the import of used, outdated turbines from western countries,” Deputy Energy Minister Andrzej Piotrowski said in parliament on May 18.

The amended law, which now will be discussed in the Senate and has to be signed into law by the president, included a proposal envisaging potential jail terms for using wind farms without permission that was eventually scrapped.

The country’s six-month old cabinet says that Poland, which generates some 85% of its electricity from coal, has been too quick to support wind generation over its coal power plants. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a miner’s daughter from southern Poland, pledged to keep the country of 38 million dependent on coal for decades to come.

The ruling party surprised the industry in December when it suspended the introduction of a new law regulating subsidies for renewable energy. The government also plans to rework an earlier plan to introduce renewable energy auctions in an attempt to reduce support for wind and solar power.

The regulatory uncertainty “is spooking investors and banks,” according to Giles Dickson, chief executive officer of the European Wind Power Association, a lobby group. Investors eager to secure debt funding for wind investments at Polish banks are charged from 9% to 10%, compared with 4% in neighboring Germany, he said on May 18.

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