The community power movement is on the rise in Japan
“Inspired by movements developed in Denmark and Germany, community power projects started to appear in Japan in the early 2000s, especially after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.” Article by Shota Furuya
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The 1st World Community Power Conference was held in Fukushima City last November, the year of the fifth commemoration of the Fukushima disaster and one year after the Paris Climate Agreement. More than 600 people from over 30 countries participated in the conference and discussed the role that community power has to play in the global shift towards 100% renewable energy. The participants agreed to the “Fukushima Community Power Declaration”, a declaration expected to become the starting point for a global community power reflection.
Let us look at what history has taught us in order to envisage the future of community based renewable energy.
What does Community Power mean?
Community Power is characterized by local ownership, decision making and distribution of economic and social benefit. In other words, Community Power ensures that local communities have democratic control of renewable energy installations during the planning, installation and operation period, as well as profit from the majority of the economic and social benefits.
Where does it come from?
The origin of the Community Power comes from the Danes. After the oil crisis in the early 1970’s, the Danish wind power pioneers started to arrange collective ownership models with neighbours to establish wind turbine cooperatives. Backed with the strong Danish cooperative tradition and tangible benefit of wind, the community-owned wind turbines saw positive response from the population. In the early 2000s, 150,000 households were co-owners of a local wind turbines. Germany followed a similar pathway with the combination of Feed-in-Tariff and energy cooperatives. Driven by both the anti-nuclear movements, and because of the geographical proximity to Denmark, some citizen groups started to organize wind power cooperatives in northern areas in the ’90s. The Renewable Energy Act (EEG) then enabled the stable growth of citizens’ collectively owned renewable energy systems including wind and solar. From four in 2007, the number of solar PV cooperative jumped to 600 in 2012.
Community Power Movement in Japan
Inspired by movements developed in Denmark and Germany, community power projects started to appear in Japan in the early 2000s, especially after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Some examples include:
Hokkaido Green Fund
The success story of the Hokkaido Green Fund saw the first citizen-funded wind power project in Japan, established in September, 2001.
When Hokkaido Green Fund and its supporters decided to construct their own wind turbine, they faced a serious financing problem, partly because of the immaturity of the renewable energy industry in Japan and because Japanese banks had never financed renewable energy projects before. As a newly established non-profit organization without outstanding assets, Hokkaido Green Fund barely stood a chance to get the necessary ¥100 million.
Tohru Suzuki, director of Hokkaido Green Fund, then realised that if it’s difficult to get a bank loan, why not raise funding by ourselves?
In the process of researching the possibility of citizen funded raising, Tohru Suzuki reached out to many experts, among them Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) who helped to establish with other experts that such a project was legal and possible in Japan.
Once this first step was done, Hokkaido Green Fund started calling for investments. The ambitious project brought on a mixture of excitement and anxiety amongst the staff and supporters. Such a wind power investment fund was completely new, there was no other case in Japan. The target amount of money (¥141.5 million) was soon collected from 217 investors, the rest of the cost being covered by a bank loan.
After the successful first project, Hokkaido Green Fund kept supporting new projects in other areas and before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, twelve citizen wind turbines had been built, most of them owned by the local communities.
Ohisama Shimpo Energy
In 2004, after establishing a program to model environmental and economic activities in communities, the Ministry of Environment adopted Iida city’s proposal for a community solar PV project that was to be one of the most challenging but successful solar PV projects in Japan.
Iida city in the Nagano Prefecture had an ambitious energy transition target, and solar PV was one of the main measures to achieve it. As the city budget was too limited to support further installation of solar PV, ISEP was approached to support the city’s target, which resulted in Japan’s first citizen-funded distributed solar PV project. Together, Iida City and ISEP made a plan that aimed to install solar PV on 38 public facilities’ rooftop in the city, including nursery schools, kindergartens and community centres.
The local enterprise in charge of the project, Ohisama Shimpo Energy, faced hundreds of problems. In order to make the financial plan feasible, the company needed to make sure that the electricity from the rooftops would be sold to the public facilities for 20 years. However, the unintended use of the administrative assets was set on an annual basis in the city. A routine in the public authority is never easy to break, but Akihiro Hara, the CEO of Ohisama Shimpo Energy, and Mitsuo Makino, the Mayor of Iida city, continued negotiation until the company obtained long term rooftop use permissions, thanks to the public benefit of the project.
Through citizen fund raising, Ohisama Shimpo Energy fulfilled its goal of reaching ¥201.5 million in two months.
Community Power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster
On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake happened, followed by a massive tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. These unfortunate events had a huge impact on people’s awareness in Japan. After the disaster, the population started to take initiatives to work on community based renewable energy planning and development.
2011 is also the year when the Ministry of Environment set up a support program for communities to start up renewable energy projects.
When the Feed-in-Tariff was enforced on July 2012, these community power plans flourished one after another. Hotoku Energy in Odawara, Shizuoka Mira Energy in Shizuoka, Tokushima Regional Energy in Tokushima, Obama Onsen Energy in Nagasak, and so on. The government and regional agencies then started various support programs for community based renewable energy. By the end of 2016, nearly 200 community power enterprises emerged.
One of the outstanding characteristics of this Community Power Movement is its diversity of people. Before Fukushima, the projects were often motivated and organised by engaged activists, but after the disaster, people from broader sectors joined the renewable energy movement. As an example, Mr. Yaemon Sato, today’s CEO of AiPower in Fukushima, is originally the head of a traditional sake brewery which has been in the family since 1790. Another example is Ms. Mayumi Fujikawa, who was part of a major food franchise before the disaster and is now the board chairperson of Ueda Citizen Energy in Nagano.
With hardly any experience in renewable energy, those new leaders had faced dozens of problems in their projects planning. However, thanks to the various support programs and networking activities, pioneers and newcomers quickly connected to learn how to break typical barriers of community power.
Think and act locally, network globally
When facing problems in community based renewable energy projects, cooperation and will are the only way to overcome them. It is important to create forums for debate with people from different backgrounds. The 1st World Community Power Conference in Fukushima was an attempt to organise such a networking space. Personally, I got to know many interesting activities and stories around the world, and I’m so excited to meet many more community power leaders around the world in the coming years. Let us think and act locally, network globally!
For more information on The 1st World Community Power Conference, visit www.wcpc2016.jp.
Dr. Shota Furuya is a researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies. He has worked on community based renewable energy development in Japan and focusses on the process in which different local stakeholders share a sustainable and creative future vision.