電力制度改革 安定供給の実現を大前提に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 13, 2013)
Power industry reform must ensure stable power supply
電力制度改革 安定供給の実現を大前提に(2月11日付・読売社説)

Reform of electric power systems must contribute to the achievement of a cheap and stable supply of electricity.

The government should carefully proceed with reform of the power industry by fully considering its effectiveness and side effects.

An Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry panel of experts has compiled a draft plan for reform of power systems. It proposes full liberalization of retail sales of electric power by 2016 and the separation of power generation business and power transmission and distribution business in five to seven years by requiring power companies to set up separate group companies for those businesses.

In the wake of power shortages after the Great East Japan Earthquake and increases in electricity charges implemented by Tokyo Electric Power Co., users have become increasingly discontent with the current regional monopolies held by utilities, under which users cannot freely choose which power company to use.

We understand the aim of the reform plan to widen the range of options for users by facilitating new entries into the markets and increasing competition among power companies.


Many expecting lower rates

Many people probably expect lower electricity charges as a result of competition in liberalized markets. But there are many problems associated with hasty reform.

As for contracts with companies and other large-lot users, retail sales and electricity charges have already been liberalized. Despite this, the share of newcomers in sales stands at somewhere between a mere 3 percent and 4 percent. Indeed, major power companies enjoy powerful monopolies.

If the markets were fully liberalized under these circumstances, "unregulated monopolies" may undermine any benefits to users and instead increase electricity charges. We call for further innovative efforts to create an environment to allow newcomers to easily enter the markets.

It also is necessary to consider the current electric power shortage, with only two of the nation's 50 nuclear reactors operating. The shortage should be quickly solved through such measures as restarting nuclear reactors whose safety is confirmed.


Adjusting power supply difficult

Meanwhile, separating power generation and transmission businesses would make it more difficult to fine-tune the amount of power generated in line with demand, compared to the current combined system for power generation and transmission. And if competition intensifies, business operators may hesitate to make necessary investments in facilities and equipment by placing priority on cutting costs.

Large-scale blackouts have taken place in other countries due to a lack of cooperation between power generation and transmission businesses or curbed investment. Implementing reforms before ensuring a vitally important stable power supply would truly be putting the cart before the horse.

It will be essential to update power infrastructure, including power plants and transmission grids, in a well-planned manner, and establish systems to maintain it. The government should carefully design systems in its reform to prevent adverse effects from occurring.

During the process of shaping the reform plan, unexpected issues not currently in the spotlight are likely to emerge.

It is important to flexibly review the draft road map produced by the panel of experts depending on circumstances by considering the timing of implementation of the reform plan as merely rough targets at this time.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 11, 2013)
(2013年2月11日01時12分  読売新聞)

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