Japanese government crackdown led to 144 projects losing FiT approvals

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The Japanese government ministry responsible for energy has confirmed the cancellation of feed-in tariff (FiT) approval for 144 solar power projects that were without necessary equipment accreditation or land rights by a deadline that passed in May.

The 144 projects are reported to total around 290MW of capacity. A further 288 projects will be given until the end of August to get their documentation in order or face a similar fate.

It was widely reported that while around 35GW of large-scale PV projects were approved for FiT accreditation in the first two years of the FiT, which began in 2012, many were yet to break ground. This prompted the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to open a ‘survey’ or investigation into the status of these projects in October last year.

METI then issued two deadlines – by March, projects without land rights or equipment accreditation documents in place could lose their FiT approval, following a series of hearings. Meanwhile, projects with only land rights or equipment accreditation in place have been given until the end of August to obtain the necessary certification.

This applied to around 748 projects in total, of which 144 have now lost their FiTs in the wake of the first deadline expiring, it has emerged. It was widely know in the Japanese industry that cancellations had taken place, but this is thought to be the first confirmation of the cancellations, which METI announced last month.

Dr Hiroshi Matsukawa, of Japanese analysis firm RTS PV, recently told PV Tech’s sister publication Solar Business Focus some of the reasons why some cancelled projects never made it past the approved stage.

“One stakeholder in the land purposed for use might object. There have also been cases where solar parks have been sited on agricultural land – in Japan the procedure to get a solar project approved on agricultural land is very difficult to negotiate,” said Matsukawa.

“Other cases include where the construction cost has been found to be too high, if a farm was proposed for a site on a big hill, for example. In these cases it’s simply been impossible for the project to go ahead at all. The industry is maturing now, but in the 2012 fiscal year, there were some projects that were simply bad, close to what you could call fraudulent. To the point where some plots of land had been picked almost at random from Google Maps! These projects were ever unlikely to be more than a plan on a piece of paper.”

Japanese telecommunications provider Softbank has offered assistance to companies struggling to meet the August deadline.

Softbank, which is led by one of the country’s wealthiest men, clean energy advocate Masayoshi Son, has developed over 60MW of projects in Japan to date. The company has a long term plan to have installed 292.1MW of PV in Japan in total by end of the 2015 fiscal year.

Company spokesman Kenichi Yuasa confirmed to PV Tech’s sister publication Solar Business Focus recently that Softbank will be “sharing knowledge” and “offering support” to developers, without going into specifics.

A document also published last month details the impact of renewable energy policy in Japan over the period since the inception of the feed-in tariff. In 2009, the government first introduced a programme to buy back electricity generated from PV systems under 500kW capacity.

This applied mostly to systems much smaller than that capacity, in the residential space. According to the METI report, after the 2009 incentive programme was introduced, the increase in installed PV capacity in Japan almost doubled, from 5% yearly to a 9% increase in capacity yearly. However, based on the ministry’s own statistics, in the brief period since the introduction of the FiT in 2012, that annual increase has shot up to an average of 32%.

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