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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 May 15 - 21  > Planned construction of biomass power plant to burn imported palm oil under fire
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2019 May 15 - 21 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Planned construction of biomass power plant to burn imported palm oil under fire

May 21, 2019
A project to construct a biomass power plant in Miyagi Prefecture, which plans to use imported palm oil as fuel, is facing fierce public criticism. Environmental activists argue that the project runs counter to global efforts to cut carbon emissions and will accelerate environmental deterioration in palm oil producing countries.

The power plant in Miyagi’s Kakuda City has been under construction since 2017. Its operator is a subsidiary of Japan’s major travel agency H.I.S. The planned power output is 41.1 megawatts.

Many criticize the use of palm oil as fuel for power plants, saying that planting oil palms will take a severe toll on the natural environment and that a large amount of fossil fuel is used to transport palm oil all the way to Japan. The international environmental NGO FoE Japan and other civil groups are carrying out a signature-collection campaign to block the power station construction in Kakuda City.

Japanese Communist Party member of the Kakuda City Assembly Kusaka Shichiro at a past assembly meeting claimed that in Indonesia and Malaysia, the development of oil palm plantations is increasing rainforest destruction. He demanded that the Kakuda City mayor urge the H.I.S. subsidiary to halt the power plant construction. The mayor rejected the demand, by saying that there is no problem.

Tomari Miyuki, who heads the NPO Biomass Industrial Society Network which focuses on environmental protection, pointed out that there are two kinds of biomass power plants: one is good for the environment and the other is bad for the environment. She said that those which use palm oil as fuel are a typical example of the latter.

Tomari said that the production and transportation of palm oil have a large carbon footprint. She went on to say that when a rainforest is cut clear of trees and peaty land is laid bare, a large amount of CO2 is discharged from the ground and the increased possibility of forest fires pose a threat to wildlife. Tomari also pointed out that land-related conflicts as well as exploitative working conditions and other human rights violations occur in palm oil producing regions. She stressed that such a problem-ridden product should not be used to generate electricity.

Tomari said that under the Abe government program, operators of biomass power plants can sell electricity at a guaranteed price regardless of whether they burn imported palm oil or genuinely sustainable biomass resources. This is why many companies run biomass power plants by buying cheap materials from abroad just to increase their rates of profit. She said that nine in ten biomass power stations in Japan burn imported fuel, namely palm oil.

Past related articles:
> Japan is running last in disinvestment from coal-fired power [December 20, 2018]
> Sendai residents collecting signatures to stop coal-fired thermal power station operations [July 27, 2017]

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