Group Introduction Nagano Soft Energy Resource Center A meeting place for people thinking about and taking action on energy and environment issues. Nuke Info Tokyo No. 102

By Hiroshi Miwa*
Based in Suzaka City, Nagano Prefecture, the Nagano Soft Energy Resource Center was originally formed in March 1991. At the time it was called the People’s Research Institute on Energy and Environment Nagano Resource Center. It was originally formed to act as a place to hold books and documents accumulated by the Tokyo-based People’s Research Institute on Energy and Environment (PRIEE). PRIEE’s President was the late Nobuo Matsuoka. He became friends with the late Shizuko Sakata when they were both working on nuclear energy issues and her group offered a place to house these materials. Rather than simply arranging the materials and enabling people to read and borrow them, the group decided to try to become a meeting place for ordinary people thinking about and taking action on energy and environment issues. Nobuo Matsuoka and Shizuko Sakata have both passed away, but we think of them as the parents of the Nagano Resource Center. Originally we received funding and other support from PRIEE, but we are now independent and we changed to our current name in April last year.Our work covers the whole of Nagano Prefecture and we have members from all over Japan, but Nagano is a very big prefecture, so most participants in our activities are based in the northern part of Nagano. At the moment we have forty ‘supporting members’ and eighty ‘cooperating members’, while ten or so people handle planning and management.

Our main focus is on ‘producing and using soft energy’. We are also interested in energy conservation, but our focus is on small-scale distributed renewable energy systems. We are engaged in both research and practice relating to ordinary people using energy that they have produced themselves. We share an interest in protecting the global environmental, and most of our members want Japan to give up its dependence on nuclear energy. They see shifting to renewable energy and direct confrontation with nuclear energy as complementary approaches. Our focus on soft energy is an expression of that view.

The year after forming the group, using funds raised from members and others, we set up three home made solar panels (105W) on the roof of our office. Over the last ten years it has been possible to connect home power systems to the grid. Also there has been a government support scheme for such systems. Over that period a large number of members have set up solar panels on their homes. We have also demonstrated energy production using solar panels and solar hot water systems at environment fairs held by Nagano Prefecture, Nagano City, Suzaka City, and so on.

Renewable energy systems must be adapted to the specific conditions in the area where they are used. For this reason we see the role of local government as being particularly important. We conduct surveys of the local conditions and also of public opinion, targeting them at the prefectural assembly and local councils and lobby them to introduce renewable energy systems. Bringing together the results of our surveys, in 1998 we produced a ‘Nagano Soft Energy Map’. At the time it provided ground-breaking information. We regard it as one of our major achievements. More recently, along with other environment groups, we have held ‘Soft Energy Round Table Meetings’ throughout Nagano Prefecture. We also did a survey of suitable locations for micro-scale hydro systems in the Suzaka area and we plan to build a people’s hydro-electric power plant.

*Hiroshi Miwa is Management Committee Representative for the Nagano Soft Energy Resource Center

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