Misawa City Mayor Yoshinori Kohiyama (right) and Consul General Andrew Lee (left) visit the newly constructed solar field at Misawa Air Base, Japan, June 8. The facility is part of a $206 million initiative that will ultimately generate up to 80% of the joint-service installation’s energy needs, reducing demands on the local community’s power grid. Photo by Leon Redfern
By Beau Miller
Northern Japan is uniquely positioned to make an outsize impact in the battle against the climate crisis. With its harsh winters, large landmass, and low population density, per capita carbon dioxide emissions run 30% higher than the national average. Thankfully, experts point to its tremendous potential for generating solar wind and other renewable energy.
Recently, the U.S. Consulate General in Sapporo led by example and created an action plan to reduce its own facility’s carbon footprint. This year, the facility became one of the first U.S. diplomatic posts to transition to 100% emissions-free power. ConGen Sapporo’s cable (22 SAPPORO 4, April 22) contains more details and a how-to guide for other posts interested in pursuing similar greening efforts.
This change will save an estimated 141,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per year—roughly equivalent to taking 1,500 flights between Sapporo and Tokyo, or driving a passenger vehicle more than a half-million kilometers (almost 311,000 miles).
It also generated headlines supporting the U.S.-Japan relationship. For example, Sapporo’s mayor praised the “bold action” as an important step in “our common fight against the climate crisis” in an article in the region’s largest newspaper. National broadcaster NHK also visited the consulate and aired a story reaching millions of viewers. Additionally, on Earth Day this year, the consulate published a lighthearted video on social media to announce its commitment to renewable energy.
ConGen Sapporo is not the only federal government entity making green strides in northern Japan. Misawa Air Base, on the northern tip of Japan’s main island, consumes huge amounts of power, ranking 6th highest in energy cost of any Department of Defense installation worldwide.
To balance energy demands with environmental impact, the base recently launched a major initiative to self-generate up to 80% of the joint-service installation’s energy needs through solar energy and natural gas, markedly reducing the base’s carbon footprint while building operational resilience in the event of natural disaster.
One main element of this initiative is an 18,800-panel solar field that will soon provide up to six megawatts of electricity going directly to Misawa Air Base’s power grid. The solar panels will help combat greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the collective dependence on fossil fuel by providing a clean and renewable source of energy. Ultimately, the solar panels will also improve air quality, human health, and prevent further climate change. More than that, solar power may be stored on the base power grid for future use.
Alongside the solar field, Misawa Air Base is currently scheduled to complete their second project in 2023, the U.S. Air Force’s first natural gas plant. The natural gas plant is projected to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by 43%, carbon dioxide by 25%, and sulfur oxides by 100%.
To attract the attention of local media to this initiative linking climate, energy, regional security, and local cooperation, ConGen Sapporo’s public affairs section coordinated with 35th Fighter Wing colleagues to invite the local mayor as well as Japanese press—representing national and regional broadcast and print outlets—onto the base for a briefing and tour of the newly constructed facilities in June.
“Before this tour, I looked at Misawa Air Base solely as a defense force partner,” said Misawa Mayor Yoshinori Kohiyama. “Now, I fully appreciate the U.S. government in their efforts…to ease the burden on Japan’s energy sector.”
These actions by the U.S. government in northern Japan advance White House climate goals by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, while also promoting military readiness and decreasing the burden on the local community’s energy grid—including in the event of a natural disaster or crisis. They show what can be accomplished by diplomatic and defense missions while lessening environmental impact.
“This is the decade to act to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel. “What we do between now and 2030 will be pivotal.”
Beau Miller is the public affairs officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Sapporo.