Geothermal power plant to be built on Hokkaido's Okushiri Island

Planning is under way for a 500-kilowatt geothermal power plant on Okushiri Island in the Sea of Japan off Hokkaido, with the launch of operation as early as fiscal 2016, local and central governments sources said.

If realized, it would be the first geothermal plant on a remote island that takes advantage of the country's feed-in tariff program for renewable energy, according to the Natural Resources and Energy Agency.

The plant's output would cover up to 25 percent of electricity consumption on the island, which now relies on burning fuel oil for energy, and will be fully bought by Hokkaido Electric Power Co. at a fixed rate.

The expected improvement in the island's energy self-sufficiency will help reduce its fuel transportation and subsequent power generation costs as well as the risk of fuel supply disruption in a natural disaster, the sources said.

According to the plan, the plant will utilize hot steam taken from two wells in western Okushiri that were test-drilled around 2008 by the semigovernmental New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization and will be offered by the town office. The use of existing wells will keep construction costs low, the sources said.

A local oil distributor will be involved in power generation, and the geothermal energy may also be used for a hot spring facility, they said.

Although NEDO found it unprofitable after drawing roughly 200 C steam from the wells about 1,600 meters deep, the town and business will survey the situation of the wells from September at the earliest, with support from the energy agency, they said.

"It will lead not only to a stable supply of electricity but also town-building around the concept of a renewable energy island," a town official said.

Under the feed-in tariff system begun in July last year, utilities are obliged to buy electricity generated from solar, wind, geothermal heat and other renewable sources at a fixed rate.

The only existing geothermal power plant on a remote island in Japan is run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Hachijo Island, south of Tokyo, and has been in operation since 1999. The Tokyo metropolitan government is planning to boost the ratio of renewable energy on the island from 25 percent to 86 percent by building more plants.