By Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO, April 23 (Reuters) - Japan plans to cut approval times for wind projects, open up abandoned farmland, boost grid capacity and other measures to slash red tape that has for decades impeded efforts to bring more renewable energy into the power mix.
Actions to reduce bureaucracy are set to accelerate after Japan on Thursday nearly doubled its 2030 target for cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as world leaders met for a climate summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.
"The entire government will work together to make renewable energy a mainstream power source," Japan's Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said on Friday.
Japan is the world's fifth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. To meet its new target of cutting emissions by 46% by 2030 on fiscal 2013 levels, against the previous goal of 26%, the ministry will seek to expand use of rooftop solar power, faster development of geothermal power in national parks and quicker environmental assessment for wind power projects, Koizumi said.
"There are still many places where solar power panels can be installed, like on roofs of homes, companies and factories, and reservoirs, dams and abandoned farmland," he said.
A series of deregulation has been decided already as the country has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.
The measures include easing rules for environmental assessment for wind power projects of up to 50 megawatts and for installing solar panels on uncultivated farmland.
The industry ministry is also considering doubling Japan's inter-regional power grid capacity to help expand offshore wind farms as it plans to install as much as 45 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2040.
Greenhouse gas emissions by Japan fell to a record low in the fiscal 2019 year to levels 14% lower than 2013 levels, with renewable energy accounting for 18% of electric power generation.
The big question is whether the new goal is viable.
"It's not easy to achieve the ambitious target that is 70% higher than the previous goal," industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said, adding the country needs "a maximum expansion of renewable energy."
The Renewable Energy Institute, however, sees the new goal as achievable if Japan boosts renewable energy to account for 45% of the power mix, Mika Ohbayashi, a director at the think tank said.
"Japan can meet an even higher goal if the government takes all possible measures to promote investments for renewable energy and energy savings," she said.
"It would be also important to introduce a carbon pricing mechanism to hasten the exit of coal-fired power plants and to bolster competition among power generators to make their portfolio greener," she said.
If successful, it would lower the resource-poor country's dependency on fossil fuels.
"Expanding use of renewable energy will reduce the cost of fossil fuels paid to other countries and thus contribute to energy security," Koizumi said.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Susan Fenton)
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