Local governments are making progress on their goal of generating all of the prefecture’s power from renewable sources by 2040
IITATE, Japan—Many residents of Fukushima prefecture are still angry about the nuclear disaster five years ago that contaminated towns, farm fields and forests. But as the cleanup continues, local governments and some business owners here are channeling their frustration into something positive: clean-energy development.
Fukushima prefecture, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Tokyo and roughly the size of Connecticut, was the site of the devastating meltdown of the Daiichi nuclear-power plant following an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Since then, most of Japan’s 50-plus nuclear plants, which were shut down after the accident for a safety review, have remained off line.
Determined to move away from nuclear energy permanently, local governments in Fukushima, as well as some local entrepreneurs, have taken advantage of national subsidies and embraced solar and wind power. Even as Japan’s overall move toward renewables appears to be stalling amid resistance from utilities and cheap fossil-fuel imports, the prefecture has made progress on its goal of generating 100% of the power its residents use from green sources by 2040.
New solar, wind and geothermal power generators, combined with Fukushima’s already abundant supply of hydropower, have boosted the share of renewable energy in the prefecture’s total power supply to more than one-quarter from one-fifth in 2009. By comparison, renewables made up just 14% of Japan’s overall energy production in the year ended in March.
Fukushima wants a “zero nuclear” power supply, says government spokesman Norihiro Nagao.
Among the business owners who have jumped into the fray is Minoru Kobayashi, 64, who ran a cattle farm about 25 miles inland from the Daiichi plant before the accident. Radioactive contamination forced him and his family to evacuate, along with their cattle, and the government tore down the family’s home and everything else within a 20-meter radius of the house.
Left with fields that couldn’t be used for farming, Mr. Kobayashi, along with a group of local farmers and investors, built four 50-kilowatt solar arrays on their land and plan to build 12 more by the end of next year. The group is selling power to the local utility at prices set by the government and expects to turn a profit by the end of this year. (The company signed power contracts with the local utility when prices were between 27 and 32 yen (26 to 31 cents) a kilowatt-hour. The current rate is 24 yen a kilowatt-hour.)
Mr. Kobayashi says solar power represents more than just a business opportunity to him and his partners. “We welcome renewable energy as a protest to the nuclear power plant,” says Mr. Kobayashi.
Elsewhere, Yauemon Sato, who ran his family’s 226-year-old sake brewery for more than two decades, started the solar-power developer Aizu Electric Power Co. in Fukushima in 2013 with a group of friends and local business associates. The company has built 21 small and medium-size solar arrays and a one-megawatt solar farm in northern Fukushima. He says the new clean-energy businesses will create jobs and boost the economy.
“We started this company as part of a social-justice movement,” Mr. Sato says.
Some business owners are even hoping renewable energy will become a tourist attraction.
In Tsuchiyu Onsen, a resort area known for its natural hot springs and proximity to national parks, local hotel owners joined forces to build a 400-kilowatt geothermal power generator and a small hydroelectric generator.
It has become a new selling point for the resort area, says Katsuichi Kato, 68, president of Genki Up Tsuchiyu Co. “There are many other hot springs towns,” he says. “We had to create a new industry: renewable energy tourism.”