Tera Energy: A Buddhist Company Building Human Bonds and Community while Taking on the Structural Foundations of Climate Change

Rev. Ryogo Takemoto

Rev. Ryogo Takemoto is the abbot of Saisho-ji, a Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Pure Land denomination temple located in Katsuragi City in Nara Prefecture. In June 2018, he established a new company called Tera Energy (tera=Buddhist temple) based in Kyoto City, which in April of 2019 began selling electricity within Hiroshima prefecture. He is also a representative of the SOTTO Kyoto Self-Death & Suicide Counseling Center and a former member of the Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Research Institute. He was first introduced to INEB work through his suicide prevention activities, but in establishing Tera Energy, he was introduced to Rev. Hidehito Okochi, one of the founder members of the INEB Eco-Temple Project, and has now joined the project. This article was developed from the talk he gave at the 3rd International Eco-Temple Meeting held at the Deer Park Institute in Himachal Pradesh, India from October 18-19, 2019.

In 2018, a few of my Jodo Shin Pure Land priest friends and I formed a company called Tera Energy. Tera means temple in Japanese. The term tera also reminds us of the Latin word terra which means “earth” and also of the concept of tera as in teravolts. So tera has multiple meanings. Our logo mark has a white lotus in the middle of it representing the Buddha’s enlightenment, and the colors orange and yellow are used to represent the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion. The Tera Energy company was founded by four Japanese Buddhist priests, that’s our main unique point.

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Revs. Koyu Tsurono, Ryogo Takemoto, Makoto Honda, Keio Kimoto (left to right)

The reason we formed our company is because we agreed that there are some very important challenges to address. The first is a tendency to consider one’s own life mainly in isolation from others. The second was the climate change or the “climate crisis” as Greta Thunberg refers to it. I believe the basis of these problems is a fundamental tendency in our society to increase suffering, especially in the struggle over wealth. Further, society is always driving us to consume more and more by increasing our desires through advertising. It is a mechanism imbedded in society where a few people try to control the masses in order to increase their own wealth. I think it is a huge problem that the big internet companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple (GAFA) and so forth are trying to control all of the information in the world and use that to control the behavior and minds of everyone in the world. I feel we need to take up the challenge of moving away from a centralized pyramid type of society to a more cyclical and mutual engagement type of society.

Concerning the problem of human isolation these days, we want to enable people to feel a warm connection with others and to create a world in which no one has to feel alienated or alone. Our ultimate goal to achieve this is to develop a community around the Buddhist temples that are found everywhere in Japan so that no one has to feel left out and everyone can feel connected. The temple was the center of such local community for many centuries in Japan in the past. We want to emphasize creating connections in a society in which desire is not the determining factor. Such a society is a place where we can be connected beyond differences in race and religion and where we can also have an economic system that is based on sustainability rather than desire. We are trying to make a mechanism based on Buddhist ethics that is not based on desire, taking what is not given, or conflict over resources but is rather based on a sense of mutual trust and sharing.

When we think about what is happiness and what is meaningful in life, we should think back to the Buddhist teaching that you should be your own light and that the Dharma should be your own light. Many of us are leading lives controlled largely by other people. I think it’s important for us to be able to switch to a life where we take control of our own lives and preferably do so based on Dharma. This is something I especially feel strongly when I am involved in the suicide issue. Many people who are feeling suicidal have been victimized by a society in which they have very little freedom or they are controlled by others from the outside. I think people who get to the point where they consider taking their own lives are actually people who have a more natural sensibility that something is wrong with their lives. It seems to me that these people who are feeling they want to kill themselves may be more normal, and our own society is more insane. In this context, I want to promote the idea that energy is an issue for each one of us and that there is something that each of us can do to solve the issues of energy and climate change.

Confronting the Climate Crisis and the Disempowerment of the Common Person

The means that we are using to achieve this goal, which is also an important method to confronting the climate crisis, is to create a temple-based energy supply system.  Practically speaking, we are supplying electric power. We are encouraging other Buddhist temples and their members as well as surrounding communities to switch their electricity supply away from Japan’s old, established utility companies and have us supply electricity to them. We put aside 3.5% of the profits of these sales to create what we call our Warm Heart Fund. From this fund, we make donations once a year to nonprofit organizations, temples, or other groups that are working on social welfare or social justice issues, such as climate change or prevention of suicide. Since we are incorporated as a corporation, naturally we aim to make a profit and use the profits appropriately. Specifically, we gain a gross profit of 15%. Our net profit is between 8% to 10%. I suppose our profit margin is unbelievably low compared to other for-profit companies. We are raising funds only by getting temple priests to be our shareholders. Therefore, when we make a profit, we may give dividends to our shareholders. However, our shareholders may also decide on more exciting ideas, like supporting some hopeful project or donating the money.

There are roughly 70,000 Buddhist temples in Japan. If all of these temples and 20 member families from each of them were to switch their power supply to Tera Energy, we would be able to raise a total of 8 billion yen ($74 million) for the Warm Heart Fund every year. This is roughly equivalent to the Japanese government’s budget currently applied to prevent suicide, roughly 7.7 billion yen. If we could find many people to support this concept, we could create a big difference in society. One of the reasons I decided to start this company was the struggles we were having raising funds to do the suicide prevention activities I have been involved in. We collected an initial capital of ¥16 million, and we have collected another ¥50 million in bank loans. According to our plan, we should reach the break-even point in our third year. We will reach that point if we get roughly 3,000 households. We have a total of 250 customers as of April 2020, which includes 150 temples from the Rinzai Zen, Soto Zen, Jodo Pure Land, and Honmon Butsuritsu Nichiren denominations as well as my own Jodo Shin Pure Land denomination. Our coverage area began in June 2019 in the Hiroshima region traditionally covered by the Chugoku Electric Company, then expanded in January 2020 to the Osaka and central Japan regions under the Kansai Electric Company, in March 2020 to the southern region of Japan under the Kyushu Electric Compnay, and in April 2020 to the Tokyo and eastern Japan regions under the Tokyo Electric Company.[1] Thus far, our marketing system is basically using word of mouth through our temple networks as priests. Our staff is now going around home to home doing sales activities in Hiroshima. If we rely on advertising, consumers will probably choose based on emotion rather than considering things properly, and we do not want that. We would also have to spend a significant amount of money to use the marketing power of GAFA and other such companies. Although this is a slower approach, it also helps to build trust.

In this way, I want to create an understanding that addressing energy issues can actually make our life happier and richer. Rev. Hidehito Okochi has mentioned in Japan there are many negative reactions against campaigns to support ecology or the environment. In this way, even if we try to encourage people to think about the environment or ecology, many people react negatively. Thus, there is a need to change the way people perceive ecological issues so that their sense of values can shift. To get people to relate more to environmental issues, it is important to make it very simple. We are sending the message very simply in our advertising that if you switch your energy supply to Tera Energy, that itself helps you to contribute to solving the climate crisis. We promise to provide energy that is 77% or more comprised of truly renewable energy. We also promise not to provide any energy that comes from nuclear power plants.

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The graph on the left shows the percentage of renewable energy in the total energy supply of Japan in 2016. Only 7% of that energy comes from renewable sources in Japan, while 2% is nuclear[2], 8% is hydro, 9% oil, 32% coal, and 42% natural gas. By switching to Tera Energy, consumers can use at least 77% renewable energies that come from solar, wind, hydro, and biomass, plus your energy will be nuclear free.

To this end, we gave some special thought to our pricing structure. We have tried to provide very reasonable pricing based on two policies: 1) ensure that our price structure is very transparent; 2) assure that the price is linked with the market price. Concerning our price transparency, we are always providing information on the breakdown of the costs for our energy. We explain how much is for actually procuring the power; how much is the grid usage fee; how much is our commission; and how much we pay as a special fee to the government. When we provide energy to households, Tera Energy takes a commission of roughly 15%. When we try to encourage new people to sign-up, it’s important to have transparency about the pricing and to provide an attractive price that is affordable for them, preferably less than the going market rate. Fortunately, or not, the large utility companies charge a very high price for energy, so it is not difficult for us to sell the electricity for less.

pricevariance

Concerning the link to the market price, in Japan there is a power supply demand market where the price for buying and selling electricity is determined in 30-minute time slots. At midnight, the price is the lowest at about 6 to 7 yen per kilowatt/hour. Meanwhile, in the evening when demand is very high, the price rises to about 12.5 yen per kilowatt/hour. In Japan, most of the old, major utility companies charge a fixed fee regardless of the actual cost of electricity. That might seem to ensure a stable price. However, these utility companies are charging a price that is actually much higher than their actual cost in order to hedge their risks. As such, most of these utility companies sell electricity at a higher price than need be and make people think that that gives them security. Instead of leaving everything up to the utility company, we want our customers to think about their energy use themselves. That is why we apply a fixed commission rate to the procurement cost of the electricity, so that the consumer can decide what time of day to buy energy and how much they will pay for it. The electricity price data is available on the internet, so anyone can access this information. We provide electricity in such a way that each consumer can think about their energy consumption and understand how they are connected to the world.

If Tera Energy can succeed, it will show how corrupt the pricing systems of big energy companies are. They have many hidden costs and are making vast amounts of money because most of us do not understand how the system works. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has actually been making profit the last couple of years even though they are dealing with the massive costs of cleaning up the nuclear accident in Fukushima and also paying out to the people whose lives they have destroyed. Yet somehow they are still making profits.[3] Much of this is enabled by government subsidies and bailouts paid by the Japanese tax payer. Furthermore, the Tokyo Electric Power Company is the number one advertiser in the western Kansai region, even though they do not operate there. Toyota, the familiar auto maker, is the number two advertiser in the region. Toyota uses an average of 40 billion yen a year on advertising, while TEPCO uses 80 billion yen on advertising. Further, private broadcast TV in Japan is generally provided for free, and it relies on advertising. In this way, no TV celebrity dares to say anything bad about these old, huge power companies. If they were to raise their voice against nuclear power, they would no longer get any jobs. The system is obviously stilted in favor of these large companies.

However, our customers are made aware of this pricing system, so that they can make wise decisions about whether or not to use electricity at different times—as opposed to our usual approach to use it as much as we like anytime we want which leads to waste. Ultimately, by thinking well about the use of electricity, consumers can secure a stable and reasonably priced supply of energy. Japanese housewives are very sensitive to prices, and if they see that something is sold for less at a supermarket far away, they will go there rather than spend extra at a local supermarket. In this way, I am hopeful that if they become aware of when electricity is expensive and when it is cheap, they will try to adjust their use accordingly and in turn create a much more ecological usage pattern. For instance, if families decide to enjoy a barbecue outdoors in the summer without electricity when the prices peak between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm, they could save money. This past year in the summer time, the price went as high as 70 yen per kilowatt/hour, which shows that it can fluctuate quite dramatically.

The Warm Heart Fund and Community Development

At present, I am having talks with many different temples on how to make use of our Warm Heart Fund. For instance, I am talking with the abbot of a temple in a rural area where there are fewer and fewer young people and most of the people are elderly. We are discussing how to make a school where more experienced elderly people can lead classes to share their different special skills with the next generations. We could use our Warm Heart Fund to help run the school. One of the members of this temple actually has a certificate as a master cook of Japanese soba noodles from Japan’s most famous soba restaurant. However, so far, no one has recognized it, and he has had no chance to really show his capabilities. We are hoping such people can share, show, and teach about such skills to other people and that this would help to revitalize the community. There is another Buddhist temple which is holding exercise classes for elderly people, but because they do not have enough budget, they are not able to hold the classes as frequently as they would like. We are thinking of using the Warm Heart Fund to help them hold regular exercise classes. I personally feel there are many people in Japan who have very beautiful ideas and wonderful aspirations to do good. However, many such people who want to do good are not so good at raising or using money. I’m hoping Tera Energy can support those people to carry out their activities better.

We also have another program to install solar power for an initial fee of zero yen, which is an approach that is becoming popular in Japan and which I think can be helpful for farmers and people in poor, rural regions all over Asia who have little to no electricity. The process is that Tera Energy asks the person to let us use some of their land to set up solar panels and generate power from which our customers will then purchase that power. In Japan, it takes about 10 years to earn enough money from selling electricity to pay off the initial cost of the solar panels and start making a profit. Once Tera Energy has recouped our investment, then we will transfer ownership of the solar panels to the person who had initially provided the land, and they can then generate their own electricity for free. Whether this is viable or not depends on the electricity price. I am not saying it will always work as a solution. Nowadays, there is also the very rapid evolution of battery technology, and the price of high-performance lithium ion batteries is coming down. It is getting to the point where such off-grid systems with batteries are becoming relatively feasible.

In Japan, people are saying we have made a shift away from the age of selling things to the age of selling experiences or amazing moments. I think being able to stay here at the Deer Park Institute in the Himalayas is just that sort of experience that people would see great value in. It might be difficult for just the people here at Deer Park to coordinate all that and make a compelling program for other people. However, if you can work with someone who is good at packaging these kinds of services, you might be able to make a very compelling offer to society. I think Buddhism has tremendous value, also in an economic sense, which we can make more use of. People in society are quite exhausted with their current lifestyles, and Buddhism has a role to play to help them out of that situation. One example of selling an experience that might be of interest is a program where farmers who have additional land that they are not farming can work with another partner to lease out their land to city people. The city people can rent that land and grow vegetables or whatever they want on the weekend, and during the weekdays the staff will tend to the fields. This is an example of a creative way to create a good experience. There are some other farmers who have created shareholdings where they get people to buy shares in their farms. Based on the number of shares that they buy, they will be able to get vegetables or crops from that field a number of times a year. This is another creative way of making a new source of funding for farming. Yet another business model is where companies who want to provide training for their employees will tie up with farmers and send their employees to work at a farm for one month. The company will pay a fee to the farmers to have their staff trained.

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Buddhism & Business

Until two years ago, I was working at the headquarters of the Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Pure Land denomination, the largest Buddhist denomination in Japan. However, I felt I could not do much there, so I quit. I feel it is not enough to try and shake things up inside our own denominations. It is important to go out into society in general, which can then lead to changes inside our denominations. One of the successful new business models are the various types of self-help type activities or motivational workshops, such as mindfulness training programs. It is actually the business savvy people who understand the true business value of what we Buddhists are doing, such as mindfulness. Serious practitioners of Zen probably never thought that what they are doing could have economic value. Among these people who are trying to use meditative practices for business, there are some really tricky, not so good players, but there also are some really well motivated people. I think it is good for us to look for reliable partners in the business sector and provide the value we can to them while also strengthening the basis of our temples. For example, the business sector looks at temples as being a large, potential market constituency, since there are 70,000 temples across the country with on average 30 to 40 affiliated member families. Furthermore, quite a few companies are interested that we are taking a Buddhist approach rather than many conventional charities that tend to be created by Christian groups. I have been surprised at how much the business sector has been interested in what we are doing. Especially people who feel there are serious problems in our environment and in our society and who feel that there is a need for change have really given us positive feedback.

This is an important issue in Japan, because priests have a negative image of being just businessmen making money from doing funerals. Many Japanese do not like religion and do not like Buddhists, so they might respond to our activity as another crazy business idea by a Buddhist priest to help him drive a Mercedes Benz and have a beautiful life. In the past, a Buddhist priest/monk was better educated than a common person but now there is no difference in terms of knowledge. Further, any knowledge that a priest has is available for free on the internet. Anyone can study it if they want to, so perhaps common people do not see much value in what the Buddhist priest knows anymore. In order for us Buddhist priests to maintain trust in society, I think it is very important to be open and transparent. I do not know about other countries, but in Japan most Buddhist temples are not very transparent about their funding. They try to hide such information, so many people in society think that the temples are vested interests protected by the establishment who do not even need to pay taxes. On the surface, they will bow their heads and show respect, but in their hearts many people distrust the temples. Of course, it is important to do good work to regain their trust, but it is equally important to be very open and transparent. I heard one meditation teacher say, “The tea must be the same, but the cup needs to change according to the culture”. I agree with him. In fact, the tea does not even need to be in a cup! There may be other good ways of serving tea. Such creative thinking is hard to find if you are just spending all of your time in the temple meditating. I think it is also important for us to go out into society at large and have real dialogues with different types of people.

In conclusion, having worked to help people who are you feeling suicidal, I have come to realize there is a need to change the structures in our society to address this problem. In order to change society, it is not enough for us to be doing our own practice among ourselves in the temple. I feel we really need to reach out to society. In Japan, there’s a saying, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered back down”, and there are indeed people trying to hammer me down right now. Some bigger Buddhist temples with more influential priests seem to be looking at us are more suspicious. They are not quite so positive about what we’re doing. I feel this is proof that I am really reaching out to society, so I don’t let it get me down and I am all the more motivated to reach out. In fact, years from now, I’m hoping to expand this mechanism throughout East Asia. At that time, I will need your cooperation.

At present, our funds are quite limited, so it would be difficult to support any activities outside of Japan. While I hope we will be able to support that kind of activity in the future, I would rather be happy if you would copy or take something from this mechanism and make a similar mechanism in your own country. That would be even more effective. It actually does not cost that much to start this mechanism. If you have a customer management system and a way to connect to the power supply and demand market system, you can start a business like this. Nowadays, you can place your server on the cloud rather than pursing your own server, so that also helps you to reduce the starting fees. The electricity market was deregulated in Japan only in 2016, so these kinds of efforts are just getting started. The deregulation of electric power is a global increasing trend, so in the future I am hopeful that other countries in Asia that do not allow the procurement and sales of electricity, like Thailand, will also allow a system like this. The utility business is one where there is a big advantage of being early in the market, so I would encourage you to be prepared so that once electricity is deregulated in your country you can be one of the first players and gain the advantages of that.

Editorial Comment: In thinking about economic sustainability for engaged Buddhist non-profit organizations working on community development and social justice, Tera Energy has created a system on a business model that has been applied to the field of (solar) energy. You could use the same business model doing something else, especially for countries like Thailand where you cannot sell electricity. The model is basically collecting a group of Buddhist temples that will provide some marketable service, make a profit from it, and then put a percentage of it back into social development. This is a mechanism that could work in other Buddhist countries where there are many temples, such as Thailand and Myanmar. If you develop a social awareness when you link the temples together and collect the capital, you could make that capital work towards something quite revolutionary. What Tera Energy is doing in Japan is also a part of a reform movement within Japanese Buddhism. For years, temples and priests have been accused of being socially passive and just enjoying the money they make from performing funerals for their own hobbies, especially as laicized priests who can live just like common people. Tera Energy is part of part of a general reform movement to inspire temples and priests to think about what they can do for the community. This is not just a question of being a good priest, but also about the very survival of the temple. Many Japanese have become very secular and are leaving their family temples. The temples are struggling to survive economically, and many predict a sharp increase in abandoned temples which has already begun in rural areas. In this way, they have to redefine their social goals and show that they are doing something to help the people and benefit society, to prove their social worth. Japanese Buddhist priests may seem utterly incomparable to their monastic counterparts in the rest of Asia. However, whether married priest or celibate monk, the ones who are respected are the ones who give both their time and energy to the people and work for the people. There are just as many Theravada monks as Japanese priests who are self-absorbed and do not work for the people, and in both cases the people do not really respect or care about them. The difference is not in the practice of Vinaya, it is in the heart and how much the priest is actually sacrificing and putting energy into the community.

Talk translated in real time by Tom Esklidsen. Transcript by Cedric Boudry. Article edited by Jonathan S. Watts

[1] Until the Japanese electrical generation market was deregulated in the 2010s, there was a group of regional electric power companies that operated as virtual monopolies in their respect regions under the guidance of the central government of Japan.

[2] From 1985 until the Fukushima nuclear incident in March 2011, the percentage of Japan’s electricity generated by nuclear was anywhere from 27% to 34%.

[3] TEPCO reports on their own corporate homepage, the following net profits: 2011 (the year of the Fukushima incident) -781 billion yen; 2012: -685 billion yen; 2013: +438 billion yen; 2014: +451 billion yen; 2015: +140 billion yen. https://www4.tepco.co.jp/en/corpinfo/ir/data/indicator-e.html

Tera (Temple) Energy:

Priests Taking on the Challenge of Being Small Energy Providers

An Interview with Rev. Ryogo Takemoto (Abbot & CEO)

Bukkyo Times May 16, 2019

Takemoto2Rev. Ryogo Takemoto is the 41 year-old abbot of Saisho-ji, a Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Pure Land denomination temple located in Katsuragi City in Nara Prefecture. Last year in June, he established a new company called Tera Energy (tera=Buddhist temple) based in Kyoto City, which in April of this year began selling electricity within Hiroshima prefecture. Instead of Japan using nuclear as a basis for generating electricity, he would like to help realize the goal of more than 70% renewable energy (feed-in-tariff supply included) for the total electricity supply of Japan. With the idea of creating a mechanism to return part of the profits of selling electricity to communities of which Buddhist temples are a central part, Rev. Takemoto is enthusiastic about “realizing a society without isolated individuals”—social isolation being one of Japan’s most problematic issues.

Tera Energy’s Unique System of Temple Based Energy Suppliers

With temples acting as energy contractors, they have established 11 temple suppliers for the 30 temples and their parishioners of 2 sub-sects of the Rinzai Zen denomination and of the Jodo Shin Hongan-ji denomination in both Hiroshima and East Hiroshima cities. Electricity will start being supplied to these places in June of this year. This is all part of a larger movement nationwide to increase the ratio of renewable energy by shifting from the old system of a small group of monopolized electricity providers to new electricity provider ventures. By November of 2018, Tera Energy had raised 16,420,000 yen ($150,000) in capital, and at present have 6 officers, of which 4 are Buddhist priests, and one staff. From June 2019, they will add two more staff through public canvassing. They are forecasting becoming profitable quickly through expanding nationwide by the year 2020. Their original expectations for this year was to have revenue of 1.7 billion yen ($15.6 million). However, they will not able to meet this target, and Rev. Takemoto says, “There are some aspects we are looking at that might still be insufficient,” such as lowering expenses through transferring office work, like customer management, within the company and also moving offices around. The revised goal for contracts in this year is 300 temples with 1,200 attached family households for a revenue of 420 million yen ($3.87 million). They claim that the break-even point for profitability is 200 temples and their affiliated households. Usage charges will reflect the market price that changes according to time of day. As usage is divided into a fixed payment, there are no hidden or additional costs to pay. Rev. Takemoto says, “We would like to be able to make an agreement to provide a usable electricity alternative.”

2.5% of Charges Returned to the Temple Community

The distinctive part of their system is the returning of 2.5% of the electrical charge to the temple provider, which they call “asset relief”, a name change from the original “temple support cost”. Those temples with normal contracts, which are basically the home temple of the parishioners, will be the first to receive such returns. These temples will need to then show their plan of using these returns during the period of the contract. Rev. Takemoto says, “Rather than speaking of returning charges to the temple, it’s more of a mechanism or system of donating to a business run by the temple. We could consider such a business as a social (welfare) activity, like building a cafeteria for local children or developing a plan for community restoration for the future.” By developing such an understanding in the community, lay followers may join in through creating such business proposals and acting as support staff. In the specific case that a supplier is not linked to a temple, Rev. Takemoto can choose to initially offer the returns to support a group that is working on environmental issues or his own Sotto Kyoto Self-Death and Suicide Counseling Center.

The Number is Isolated People is Painful

After establishing the company, Rev. Takemoto resigned from his position at the Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Research Institute and resolved to take on the role as head of the company. For a Buddhist priest to dabble in business can invite criticism since it is thought that the aim of a priest should be to rescue people caught in suffering, such as those contemplating suicide. For this reason, Rev. Takemoto created the Sotto Kyoto Suicide and Self-Death Counseling Center as a non-profit organization. From 2010 continuously for 9 years, he put his best efforts into this work, but there were many instances in which he felt he could not continue with it. The strains of running a non-profit that relied on grants and subsidies pushed him to conceive of a new system of support, and this became the genesis of the idea for Tera Energy, whose motto is, “With a rich mind/heart, we can move towards a secure future”. Rev. Takemoto notes that, “The fundamental cause of suicide is isolation. If we can create temples that build community around a group of supporters, then we can definitely help in resolving the social isolation problem in Japan.” And with full expectation, he has vowed to make electricity a lamp for relief and security.

Translated and edited by Jonathan S. Watts

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 10.15.31Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Pure Land Denomination’s Buddhist Priests Selling Energy to Support Communities & the Maintenance of Temples

Mainichi Newspaper October 25, 2018

The priests of the Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Pure Land Denomination (based in Kyoto at the Nishi Hongan-ji Temple) held a press conference today in Kyoto to announce the establishment of a retail electricity company called Tera Energy (tera is Japanese for Buddhist temple), which will begin business in April of 2019. The company will sell electricity to temples and temple members regardless of denomination. By re-investing part of their sales as “temple support fees”, they will provide aid for community activities and the maintenance of temple buildings. They will also provide free installation of solar panels with the goal to further prevent global warming.

The company is now in the process of registering with the Shimogyo Ward of Kyoto City as a retail electricity provider. According to Rev. Ryogo Takemoto, a Nishi Hongan-ji priest representing the company, by keeping down advertising costs, they can reduce the cost of energy by 2% compared with larger companies. The electricity will be mostly procured from renewable energy companies, such as Miyama Power HD, a company in Miyama City, Fukuoka Prefecture that supports community energy development. The Climate Network (Kiko-Nettowaku), a non-profit, will also provide support. They also have the aim in the medium-term to develop small-scale hydroelectric power in the wider Sanin region of prefectures along the Japan Sea Coast, such as Shimane, Tottori, and Hyogo. For the time being, Tera Energy is targeting temples and their members in the Shikoku and Chugoku regions of central Japan with the aim of selling energy nationwide by 2020. In their preparatory research of 38 temples in the three prefectures of Hiroshima, Shimane, and Kagawa, 28 temples indicated an interest to switch to buying electricity from Tera Energy.

Rev. Takemoto, who has been working as a representative of the non-profit Sotto Kyoto Self-Death and Suicide Counseling Center, is also using part of the sales from the company as “social contribution fee” for supporting these suicide prevention activities. He explains that, “Through Tera Energy, we would like to support temples and communities that have communal property to support society.” With the wider circulation of electricity sales that until recently have been monopolized in every region by large utility companies in Japan, smaller retailers can provide freedom of choice as they gain certification for their new businesses. Since 2000, there has been a progressive shift in the energy market away from large-scale customers to individual households emerging in April 2016.

Reporting by Tatsuya Tamaki & Hajime Nakatsugawa

Translation by Jonathan S. Watts

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