Sakae Sugiyama: An Activist with a Green Future in Mind
By Kiyono Takama
Sakae Sugiyama is the Chairperson of the Hokkaido Green Fund, a non-profit organisation set up in July 1999 for the purpose of establishing a citizens’ electrical power plant.
She was born in Tokyo, but moved to Sapporo City, Hokkaido, when her husband was transferred there in 1981. There she joined an egg purchasers’ cooperative. This in turn spawned the Hokkaido Seikatsu (Livelihood) Club Cooperative, of which she became a director. In 1986 she became the second Chairperson of the Club and continued in that role for 12 years.
During the year in which she became Chairperson, the Chernobyl disaster occurred. Fearing radioactive contamination of food, some co-op members began a campaign calling for Japan’s withdrawal from nuclear energy and she became a part of that campaign.
Unfortunately, they were unable to get past the brick wall of the government’s pro-nuclear energy policy. When asked, ‘If we give up nuclear energy, how do you propose that we make up the difference?’, she was frustrated by her inability to offer a clear alternative. Ms. Sugiyama reflects that even when they appealed for energy conservation measures, they failed to have much impact on public opinion.
At this time, she became aware of the American green electricity fee system. She was attracted to this system, in which citizens put solar panels on their roofs, and donated $4 a month as a green electricity fee. Californian electricity companies had introduced this system so that they would be able to rebuild their operations in the event that nuclear power was discontinued.
Members of the Livelihood Club had supported the campaign to withdraw from nuclear energy and now they wondered if somehow they couldn’t introduce a Japanese version of the green electricity fee. Together they studied and debated the issues.
Out of this emerged a new anti-nuclear energy campaign. People who agreed with the idea paid an extra 5% on top of their electricity bill into a fund, the purpose of which was to build a citizens’ cooperative green energy power station. Five percent of their electricity bill represented on average about 400 yen per household per month, an amount which could easily be covered by conserving electricity. The campaign was able to kill two birds with one stone: it promoted energy conservation and it funded green energy alternatives.
A year and a half after the campaign started, there are already more than 1,000 members, and last Spring they began construction of the much- awaited citizens’ wind power station. The members’ 5% contribution alone wasn’t sufficient to cover the construction costs, but when they put out a call for investors, many people came forward. As Ms. Sugiyama cheerfully says, ordinary citizens are realising their dream of a withdrawal from nuclear energy through their own efforts.