The Japanese government is moving to speed up the environmental assessment process for new coal-fired power plants as its power sector struggles with a surging energy bill in the wake of the forced idling of much of the country's nuclear power plants following the Fukushima power plant meltdown in 2011.
At present, it can take up to four years for approvals for new plants to be processed.
According to Japanese media reports, the government intends to make 12 months the maximum period for assessing and approving new coal-fired power plants as its utilities seek to develop more power stations to stem surging energy supply bills.
The closure of much of the country's nuclear power capacity following Fukushima has forced the utilities to restart idled oil-fired power plants, which has pushed up energy bills significantly since oil is the most expensive fuel source.
And with the government considering the closure of much of the installed nuclear capacity over the medium term, the spotlight is back on coal as the cheapest energy source, notwithstanding plans to cut carbon emissions.
A commitment to slice 2020 carbon emissions by 25 per cent from their 1990 level will be revised by October, according to Japanese newspaper reports.
Tokyo Electric, which operated the Fukushima complex, is adding an estimated 2.6 gigawatts a year of coal-fired generation capacity from two new plants that started operation this month.
It is also sourcing electricity from two coal-fired plants operated by Tohoku Electric Power Co that have been restarted after being repaired following the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The No.2 unit at Tokyo Electric's Hitachinaka plant, with 1000 megawatts of capacity, began operating this month, along with the 600MW No. 6 unit at its Hirono power station. The utility is also purchasing half the output from the No. 1 and No. 2 units at Tohoku Electric's Haramachi plant in northern Japan, each of which can generate 1000MW.
In total, these coal-fired power plants are expected to consume about 11.5 million tonnes of coal in a full year of operation.
The government's move to speed up the assessment process coincides with Tokyo Electric's call for tenders for the construction of coal-fired power stations with 2600MW of capacity, which it wants to have in operation by the end of the decade, to replace lost nuclear capacity.
Of Japan's 50 nuclear power plants, just two are in operation at the moment. All were shut for a review of operating procedures after the Fukushima accident.