Softbank Corporation President Masayoshi Son is rolling out a plan to turn Japan’s 1.3 million acres of unused rice paddies into solar farms. Energy issues in Japan have been under heightened scrutiny since the March 11th earthquake, tidal wave and resulting Fukushima nuclear disaster, and particular attention has been paid to Japan’s slow adoption of renewable energy technology. Son has decided to tackle this problem head on and has done the math – turning just 20% of Japan’s unused rice paddies into solar farms would replace all 50 million kilowatts of energy generated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company.
Son’s plan could also come as a huge relief to farmers in former agricultural communities who have seen their work disappear as rice paddies are no longer being used. The installation of massive solar farms could refuel those communities with new jobs, new income and the vision of a prosperous clean energy future. 35 of Japan’s 47 prefectures have already expressed interest in the plan.
Son’s ideas were sparked by the disaster in March and at Softbank Corporation’s annual meeting he had the company’s articles of incorporation altered to include renewable energy growth as part of its business model. “If the central government and electric power companies cannot resolve the nuclear power plant issue, I’ve decided we will have to do the job instead,” Son said.
One problem standing in Softbank’s way is a set of Japanese laws that could inhibit the sale of renewable energy from the rice paddy solar farms to Japan’s electric companies — which have regional monopolies over power markets. Once built, those electric companies would not be required to buy power from the new solar farms and Son is appealing to local governments to help him change the laws around energy purchasing. At a meeting with some Japanese lawmakers Son urged the government to move forward with feed-in tariffs requiring energy companies to buy power from renewable projects, saying “if passage of the legislation is delayed, Japan will become the laughingstock of the world. You should establish the right to generate electricity and the right to sell electricity. This will be for the sake of Japan and the children. Pass the bill. “