Heguri and the problems of mega solar in Japan

Justin Aukema

9 Sept 2021

(Originally published here

Heguri mega solar project

Heguri-chō (chō is approximate to town) is a quiet rural community in Nara Prefecture on the border of Osaka. Approximately 80% of the town is covered in forests and trees. The residents there are proud of their community’s natural abundance especially considering its proximity to the sprawling Kansai metropole. But from around January 2021 residents were shocked to learn that a company called Kyōei Sōrā Sutēshon Gōdōgaisha (hereafter KSSG) was clearcutting the surrounding forests to build a mega-solar project in their backyard.

One resident, Tada Keiichi (78), said when he first heard phrases like “clean energy” being used in reference to the project, he thought it sounded like no problem and maybe even a good idea. But the more Tada learned about the project, the less enthusiastic he became. One reason was the scale: the project would clear-cut 48 hectares (119 acres) of mountain forest land on the west side of the town. This would be the same size as twelve Koshien baseball stadiums. It would include 50,000 solar panels carrying 22,000 volts of energy through underground cables to a transformer substation three kilometers away in the center of the town. Moreover, the cables would pass under or very close to many residential areas – another cause for concern since the electromagnetic waves they emit have been known to be damaging to human health. On top of this, the large scale clearing of the mountain side could increase the risk of landslides during heavy rains, said some residents. [1]

And as a March 2021 news broadcast by the Mainichi Broadcasting System revealed, the project was fraught with other problems, too. For instance, the written agreement signed between the builder and Heguri-cho in September 2019 stipulated that the builder must inform “surrounding residents (shūhen jūmin)” before felling trees or beginning preliminary construction. But the builder only informed residents living on the sparsely populated mountain side where it would place the solar panels. Heguri residents in the six other surrounding districts, most of the town and where high-voltage cables would pass, received no notice whatsoever. This was cause for surprise and concern among residents who only learned of the project afterward. Maeda Tsuto (76), for example, learned that one of the main roads they used throughout the day would be torn up to bury high voltage cables. Another elderly resident even learned that the sole road going to her house would be blocked during construction, effectively leaving her trapped at home. In fact, despite town regulations stipulating that builders should contact residents before beginning road construction, this never happened. Construction on the mega-solar site, including the large scale felling of trees, began in February 2021. But many residents feel their voices have been ignored. [2]

And it didn’t seem that they were going to get much help from Heguri Town officials, either. When interviewed by MBS, Chief of the Resident Life Division, Ōura Takao said that it wasn’t up to Heguri to voice a stance on the project after it had already been approved by the national and prefectural governments. He also defended the town’s actions to notify residents beforehand of the project as being sufficient. Residents, however, disagreed. And in March 2021 approximately 1,000 of them filed suit in the Nara District Court to stop the project. [3]

The trial and ongoing events

On June 8th the Nara district court held the first hearings between the plaintiffs, Heguri residents and the builder-defendant, Kyōei Sōrā Sutēshon Gōdōgaisha. The defendant called for the case to be dismissed. The plaintiff-representative Tada Keiichi stated: “destroying the precious environment and threatening residents’ lives is neither eco-friendly nor clean.” Their lawyer also noted that the builder may have falsified or omitted relevant information on their application for permission to the prefecture and stated that the project lacked necessary safety measures for natural disaster prevention. KSSG refuted this claim [4].

But Heguri residents were correct in their suspicions and claims. On June 22, Nara Prefecture called for a halt to construction citing safety concerns. In particular, the Prefecture noted discrepancies and inaccuracies in KSSG’s initial application figures regarding stormwater management and rainwater runoff [5]. At a prefectural assembly meeting the following day, Nara Prefectural Governor Arai Shōgo stated that the project would be halted until KSSG rectified the project to meet legal standards. Moreover, he also stated his intent to draw up prefectural guidelines vis-à-vis such solar projects within the year [6]. 

As of mid-July, the project was still on hold. In fact, that month, a large landslide caused by heavy rainfall occurred in Atami, Kanagawa Prefecture. Shocking images of entire buildings being carried away as the side of a mountain seemed to collapse were broadcast on national news to wide attention. In this milieu, local Heguri Town officials and experts surveyed the projected mega solar building site. In the NHK broadcast coverage of this survey, it was clearly apparent that, throughout the broad swaths of clear-cut forest, many areas had already suffered extensive soil erosion. Moreover, many of the cut trees had not been carried away and remained where they were felled. This posed a huge potential danger in the event of heavy rains which could easily send logs tumbling down the mountain [7].  

Public response

The rapid development of the mega solar project left many Heguri residents scrambling to formulate a response. In the flurried milieu, some took to SNS to voice their frustrations. One Twitter account group called Heguri Middle School Students Opposed to the Mega Solar Project posted the following:

“It says in this article that one can receive an electric shock just by passing within two meters of extra-high voltage wires. But villainous town officials and builders are going to bury cables just one-meter underneath a route that kids take to school."

Another user, Yüki, retweeted this post and added the comment,

“My kids are going to walk just one meter above 22,000 volts of energy. Their school principal isn’t lifting a finger to protect them. Assembly member Morita is handing out his fliers filled with lies around the town. The Heguri Town Mayor and all the rest of the Assembly members who support this project are real devils.”

Moreover, user Yugo, on the mountain climbing enthusiast site, Yamap, left a detailed report about his hiking trip in the mountains around the solar project on July 18th. He took a series of shocking images that documented the scope of the destruction.

“This place likely used to be a valley with rice fields”

Yugo also discovered that an ancient Buddha engraving that had been carved into a rock face nearby had been completely defaced.

“It’s not there; it’s totally gone. This is so sad.”

Yugo showed other photo evidence of landslides having already occurred in heavy rains at the construction site and ended his post sadly wondering what other problems the project will inevitably cause in the future. 


[1]  Mainichi Broadcasting System, “Chīsana machi de no ‘mega sōrā keikaku’ 1000-nin shūdan teiso ni hatten,” 8 March 2021 https://www.mbs.jp/mint/news/2021/03/09/082690.shtml

[2] Mainichi Broadcasting System, “Chīsana machi de no ‘mega sōrā keikaku.’”

[3] Mainichi Broadcasting System, “Chīsana machi de no ‘mega sōrā keikaku.’”

[4] “Heguri megasōrā kensetsu sashidome soshō,” Mainichi Shinbun, 2021.9.6.

[5] “Heguri megasōrā keikaku, ken ga kōji teishi shiji, shinsei shorui ni ayamari,” Mainichi Shinbun, 2021.6.25.

[6] “Arai chiji kensetsuchū no megasōrā keikaku ni ayamari, kōji teishi shiji,” NHK News Web, 2021.6.23.

[7]  “Hegurichō, daikibō taiyōkō hatsuden shisetsu no zōseichi, senmonka to genchi chōsa,” NHK News Web, 2021.7.13.

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