A 7.5MW pilot offshore wind farm being developed by a consortium led by Hitachi Zosen Corporation (Hitz) is likely to be located in waters off eastern Japan, a senior company official told Windpower Offshore. The pilot would represent the first step toward the consortium’s stated aim of developing of 300MW of offshore capacity in Japanese waters.
Two or three sites within 2km of land and in water depths up to 30m are under consideration for the bottom-fixed project. "It will probably be in eastern Japan," said Takashi Fujita, general manager within Hitz’s strategic planning department. "The location has good wind utilisation factors," he said.
It is not clear whether the pilot will be located in the Pacific Ocean or Sea of Japan, but Fujita told Windpower Offshore that the turbines will not be installed off Fukushima prefecture. Waters off Fukushima have already been chosen as the site for the world’s largest floating offshore wind pilot to date.
Meteorological monitoring of potential sites for the Hitz-led pilot began late last year, and by April a judgement should be possible about the electricity generating potential of each location. If the group led by Hitz chooses to proceed it will likely create a special purpose company some time after March 2014. The earliest date for turbine installation would be 2015, noted Fujita.
Individual turbines with rated capacities of about 3MW are envisaged, combining for a total capacity of 7.5MW. Toshiba Corporation is a member of the group developing the project, and while not an established turbine manufacturer, in 2011 it bought a stake in Korean wind energy equipment maker, Unison.
Since October 2012, the Japanese government has required facilities with generation potential exceeding 10MW to undergo compulsory environmental assessments. Hitz’s plan to build a 7.5MW project would exempt it from this process. However, the long-term goal is to expand the pilot, meaning that a bureaucratic consenting process would eventually be faced, acknowledged Fujita.
"We are considering a bigger wind farm on the location of the 7.5 MW pilot project, and there is the possibility that we may be viewed as attempting to slip under the provisions of the environmental assessment laws with our pilot plant," he said. Hitz is taking legal advice; meanwhile, there are signs that Japan’s existing regulations may change.
"We are in a bit of a hurry as the administrative guidance relating to the law itself looks as though it might change," said Fujita. Administrative guidance is the Japanese equivalent of bureaucratic red-tape and has long been considered as a structural impediment to doing business in Japan. Any suggestion that case-by-case administrative guidance is to be tightened could set back projects such as this.
"We might have to reconsider our strategy if the thinking on environmental assessment changes," said Fujita. The project also faces other challenges. In particular, Japan’s feed-in tariff rate for offshore wind has yet to be set. "We want to see a rate 1.5 times that of onshore wind, or about 33 yen," explained Fujita. "We will make a number of assessments based on prices between 22 yen and 33 yen.