Wind farm near Fukushima goes online

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Wind farm near Fukushima goes online

ONAHAMA PORT, Japan - Japan switched on the first turbine at a wind farm 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the coast of Fukushima on Monday, feeding electricity to the grid tethered to the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant onshore.

The wind farm near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is to eventually have a generation capacity of 1 gigawatt from 143 turbines, though its significance is not limited to the energy it will produce. Symbolically, the turbines will help restore the role of energy supplier to a region decimated by the multiple meltdowns that followed the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It also highlights Japan’s aspirations to utilize its advanced energy technology from cleaner versions of conventional coal, oil and gas-burning thermal power plants to renewables and also nuclear power.

All of Japan’s 50 viable nuclear reactors are offline for safety checks under new regulatory guidelines drawn up after the Fukushima disaster. Utility companies have applied to restart at least 14 reactors under those new rules, which include more stringent requirements for earthquake and tsunami protections, among other precautions.

“We are moving ahead one step at a time. This wind farm is a symbol of our future,” said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima Prefecture who has lobbied hard for support after the 2011 disasters.

Trading houses such as Marubeni Corp., which is leading the consortium building the offshore wind farm, are investing in renewable energy as well as conventional sources, helped by government policies aimed at nurturing favored industries.

In Japan, the push to tap more renewable sources to offset lost power capacity and reduce costs for imported natural gas and oil got a boost last year with the implementation of a higher wholesale tariff for energy generated from non-conventional sources.

Japan, whose coast is mostly ringed by deep waters, is pioneering floating wind turbine construction, required for seabed depths greater than 50 meters (165 feet). The 2-megawatt downwind floating turbine that began operation Monday is tethered to a seabed 120 meters deep. The turbine is linked to a 66-kilovolt floating power substation, the world’s first according to the project operators, and an extra-high voltage undersea cable.

As the government and Tokyo Electric Power struggle to clean up from the nuclear disaster and begin the decades-long task of decommissioning Fukushima Dai-ichi, Japan’s energy industry is in the midst of a transition whose outcome remains uncertain. AP
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