Sunday, July 22, 2012

Power Company Employees Unwelcome Guests at Public Hearings

Here are the basic facts: The national government is holding public hearings around the country to seek input for the formulation of Japan’s mid- to long-term energy policy. It is putting forth three options—0%, 15%, and 20~25%—for the share of nuclear power in total electricity supply in 2030 for public comment. At each hearing, for each option, three people favoring that option is selected in an otherwise random two-step process to give their opinions. The controversy arose when two of the hearings turned up one power company employee each arguing for the maximal 20~25% option (naturally). There was nothing surreptitious about their presence. They identified themselves as utility employees when their turn to speak came. Still, there was a significant public outcry over this, the government was not amused, and power company employees wound up being effectively banned from future sessions.

There is a certain logic to this. After all, the power companies have a powerful interest in keeping as much of the nuclear power plants as possible. But if that’s enough to keep the hearings off limits to power company employees, couldn’t the same thing be said for solar power companies, or corporations, such as Softbank, planning to go into the solar power business? Solar panel vendors? The list goes on. And it’s not as if the government and its advisory council were going to be bamboozled by EPCO rhetoric this late in the day into maxing out. It’s a matter of optics. If they let nature run its course, the people voicing their opinions would be overwhelmingly in favor of the 0% option.* This is no mystery. Not many people are rabidly pro-nuclear, while the Fukushima accident has made the anti-nuclear folks even more passionate than before and also shrunk the middle ground. Nevertheless, the government has managed to set up, with little fanfare, a national hearing caravan that gives proponents of each option equal voice, almost surely with the objective of legitimizing the middle-ground option. So the last thing that the government must have wanted was to draw negative publicity about power companies trying to influence the process. Note: * 161 out of the 352 people who applied for the Nagoya hearings wished to express their views, according to this Yomiuri report. This number was narrowed down to 120 by drawing lots. Of the 120161, 106 favored 0%, 18 favored 15%, and 37 favored 20~25%. I assume that this kind of breakdown is typical

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