Govt Cracks Down on Solar Panel Operators Overdeveloping Land

Courtesy of the Kobe city government
Solar panels that slid down a slope are seen near the Sanyo Shinkansen railway line after a mudslide caused by heavy rain in western parts of Japan in July 2018.

The government intends to make procedures stricter for operators of solar and other renewable energy sources when obtaining permission for land development to implement their power generation projects, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. The aim is to shut out malicious operators who overdevelop the land without giving consideration to safety and the environment.

As early as this summer, these operators will be obliged to obtain permission for land development based on the relevant laws and regulations, such as the Forest Law, in order for their projects to be approved under the law on special measures concerning renewable energy sources, according to sources.

The special measures law urges operators to produce a written pledge stating that they will abide by the relevant laws and regulations when they apply for their projects. However, there is no end to cases of companies illegally carrying out large-scale deforestation and development on steep slopes after their projects have been legally approved.

For that reason, the government plans to revise ministry ordinances based on the special measures law and review the requirements for project approval in line with the locations of the sites.

Specifically, for areas that require permission for forest development as stipulated by the Forest Law and areas subject to the law restricting soil embankment, operators will need to obtain permission in advance based on these laws and regulations. They will also be obliged to explain projects to local residents in advance, such as by holding briefing sessions.

Under the special measures law, there are two kinds of systems — the feed-in tariff system, in which operators of power and other utilities purchase electricity from renewable energy sources at a fixed price, and the feed-in premium system, in which operators receive a premium on top of the market price.

Unless projects are legally approved, operators will not be able to get subsidies for the systems. The government also intends to establish a system to withhold subsidies from operators who were found to have violated laws and regulations after beginning land development.

There has been a string of troubles regarding facilities for solar power generation. According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, a total of 49 accidents happened, such as solar panels being washed away, in fiscal 2021 due to heavy rains and landslides.

In a July 2021 fatal mudslide disaster in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, it has not been clarified whether there was a causal link between the mudslide and solar panels that were set up near the disaster site. However, the disaster has triggered increased interest in safety measures on sloping terrain.