Monday, June 9, 2014

More Strain on the Utilities

TEPCO and a number of the other utilities reported better financial results for the most recent ended fiscal year.  But the pressure is still on, big time.

-Both Kyushu Electric and Hokkaido Electric are in the process of applying for/taking equity from the Development Bank of Japan, in order to avoid risk of technical insolvency as they continue to lose money. The interesting question will be whether this equity comes with significant strings attached, in terms of a commitment to cooperate fully with the government's regulatory/restructuring initiatives.

-Japan is still a zero nuclear country, with many utility applications pending with the Japan NRA for reactor restarts, but none yet approved.  The nation appears headed to a no-nuke summer again.  Supply will be especially tight in western Japan, where Kansai Electric has made it through the last 2 summers with the Oi reactors 3 and 4 operating, and where Kyushu Electric faces an outage at a major J-Power plant in Matsuura, Nagasaki from which it has taken supply in the past.  

-Even worse for the utilities and their business plans, a Fukui-based district court issued an injunction against the restart of Oi Reactors 3 and 4, on May 21.  KEPCO has appealed the decision, but it could take months or years before the upper court hears the appeal and issues a ruling.  The decision gave legal standing to persons without a broad area (250 kms) of a reactor to pursue litigation in court, undercutting government efforts to limit restart consents to communities within the host prefecture.  The nuclear restart is now a critical part of the government's energy policy, and it is far behind schedule.

-There are now something over 200 companies registered to sell electricity to small, retail end-users as the market liberalizes.  We will probably see a slow but continuous chipping away at both the generation and distribution/sales part of the utilities businesses.

A Nikkei opinion piece on June 3, 2014 notes that the historical environment for the electric utilities has collapsed.  No longer can they be assured of recovering costs and earning a profit if they just follow national policy -- which has included the promotion of nuclear power.  The electricity market may become competitive, and in such case the utilities cannot support or promote a risky endeavor such as nuclear power, where reactor closures can push a utility into sustained losses or even insolvency.   In order for the utilities to be reborn as "normal" private sector enterprises, the article suggests a need to transfer the nuclear power assets to a public corporation that can handle the burdens, the risks and rewards.

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