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Corporate Communications Staff Explores the World

Passion for Minamisoma

  • Japan
  • Environment & Infrastructure Business Unit
  • Electric Power & Energy

June 2017

Masaaki Nakamura, Mass Media Relations Team, Corporate Communications Department

Longing for a trade business at a trading company, Nakamura joined Sumitomo Corporation in 2014, becoming a member of the Mass Media Relations Team in the Corporate Communications Department. He handles media interviews and touts news and stories concerning metal products, materials and supplies, real estate and food businesses. On weekends, he enjoys lacrosse, Japanese chess and travel. His current dream travel destination is the Antarctic pole.

The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 inflicted enormous damage on the Tohoku region. Minamisoma City in Fukushima Prefecture was one of the areas devastated by the disaster. Even today, terrible scars left by the tsunami remain visible along the coastline. Sumitomo Corporation and Sumitomo Corporation Tohoku Co., Ltd. are currently working on solar power generation in Minamisoma. In February 2017, six years on from the earthquake, I visited the city to see how people are feeling as they work toward the reconstruction of the affected area.

“Kashima no Ipponmatsu” in Minamisoma

Minamisoma City is located on the Pacific coast, about 60 kilometers east of Fukushima City.

Sumitomo Corporation and Sumitomo Corporation Tohoku are engaged in two solar power generation projects in the city via two companies in which they hold 100% stakes: Solar Power Minamisoma-Haramachi Co., Ltd. and Solar Power Minamisoma-Kashima Co., Ltd. The land area used for these projects totals about 155 hectares, making the projects the largest of their kind in the Tohoku region. Also in the city, there is a lone pine tree that survived the tsunami. I had a chance to see this so-called "Kashima no Ipponmatsu" (solitary pine tree of Kashima), which stands alone in a vast tract of empty land. The landscape made me realize the scale and horror of the tsunami damage.

Start of Solar Power Minamisoma-Haramachi

I visited Minamisoma on February 13, the day of the groundbreaking ceremony for the solar power plant being built by Solar Power Minamisoma-Haramachi. The cloudless blue sky seemed to celebrate the start of this new chapter in the company's history. About 80 persons, including Mayor of Minamisoma, Katsunobu Sakurai, joined a Shinto ritual to pray for the safety of the construction work. President Takayuki Hirano of Solar Power Minamisoma-Haramachi expressed his great determination for the success of the project, saying, "We will make efforts so that this power plant, when competed, will be accepted and loved by people in the community and will contribute as much as possible to the reconstruction and development of Minamisoma City."

The Solar Power Minamisoma-Haramachi project is expected to cost about 13 billion yen in total. Nearly 120,000 solar panels will be installed and the power plant will be brought online by the end of 2018. With a capacity of 32.2 MW, the plant will generate enough electricity to power about 10,000 households, or 40% of all households in the city.

President Hirano of Solar Power Minamisoma-Haramachi making a congratulatory speech at the groundbreaking ceremony

Solar panels spreading as far as the eye can see

A 20-minute drive north of the Haramachi Higashi district will take you to Solar Power Minamisoma-Kashima's power plant construction site, which straddles the districts of Migita/Ebi and Mano. With a total cost of 22 billion yen, this project will erect a mega-solar power facility with a generating capacity of 59.9 MW, which is enough to power around 20,000 general households. After starting operation in March 2018, the power plant will support the day-to-day lives of many people.

Since Solar Power Minamisoma-Kashima started work on the site in May 2016, construction has progressed steadily. As of February 13, 2017, 40% of the work in the Migita/Ebi district, or 25% of the entire site, has been completed. The site is covered with about 9,000 solar panels stretching as far as the eye can see. When construction is complete, the number of panels installed will total 220,000. I can only imagine the enormous panorama that will emerge.

Installed solar panels

Contribution to local community

In its Minamisoma Renewable Energy Promotion Vision, Minamisoma City sets the goal of generating enough renewable energy to meet 100% of the city's power needs by 2030. The solar power project in which the Sumitomo Corporation Group is involved will help the city achieve this goal.

In May 2016, Minamisoma City and Solar Power Minamisoma-Kashima signed an agreement on contribution to the local community. In line with the agreement, the company will provide advice on local consumption of electricity generated by the city's renewable energy projects, as well as environmental education programs for local children using a facility to be constructed by Solar Power Minamisoma-Kashima. The company will thus not only cooperate with the city in a business sense but will also continue to contribute to local education.

Minamisoma is known nationally as host of the "Soma Nomaoi," a 1,000-year-old horse-chasing festival designated as an important intangible folk cultural properties. The valiant festival features a horse-chasing event, horse-riding contests in which riders are decked out in samurai armor, competitions for sacred flags, and a samurai costume parade. The annual event is of great importance for the people of Minamisoma, so much so that, thanks to their passionate support, it was even held in the year the Great East Japan Earthquake struck the city. I saw pictures of the festival that looked like something out of the Warring States period. The serious facial expressions on the individuals portrayed in the pictures testified to both the heat at the venue and the participants' strong attachment to their local community and the traditional event.

Sumitomo Corporation is actively engaged in renewable energy power projects around the globe, and will use the knowledge and experience it has acquired to aggressively take on new challenges for projects that support people's day-to-day lives and achieve coexistence with the global environment.

A stone frog at the solar panel installation site in the Migita/Ebi district. In some quarters, the frog is considered a god of protection.

Unyielding spirit

I was impressed by the scale of the solar power projects in Minamisoma, as well as by Sumitomo Corporation's commitment to the local communities. Although reconstruction efforts over the past six years have progressed, more time will yet be needed before reconstruction is complete. Nevertheless, I was convinced that passion and an unyielding spirit—two things that President Hirano himself emphasized—will make it possible to contribute to regional reconstruction for many years to come.

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