Originally owned and operated by Hokutan, Hokkaido Colliery & Steamship Co, Shimizusawa Thermal Power Plant was built in 1926 and served as a power supply to the many surrounding coal mines in Shimizusawa and Yubari, producing 6000 kilowatts of energy output.
In 1940 Shimizusawa Dam was constructed to collect and provide cooling water to the process. The dam also operated its own hydroelectric plant generating 2000 kilowatts. This hydroelectric plant is still in operation today under the Hokkaido Business Administration.
During the power shortages of Japan’s post-war reconstruction period, Shimizusawa Thermal Power Plant was converted to supply power to the general public.
Around 1960, the plant underwent major upgrades to more efficient technology incorporating pulverised fuel systems, boosting the output to 74,500 kilowatts and an auxiliary system which made use of the natural gas captured from the coal mining process with an output of 49500 kilowatts. At the time it was the largest privately owned power generation plant in Japan.
In 1981 a methane gas rupture caused an underground explosion resulting in a fire which killed 93 miners in Hokutans’ Yubari New Mine. The mine closed and Hokutan went into bankruptcy, culminating with the closure of the power plant in 1991.
The remaining buildings were acquired by Toua Kenzai Kogyo, a building materials recycling company who still occupies the site today using part of the power station as storage and the surrounding area as part of its operations.
Three-quarters of the original site has been demolished, including the coal handling facility and the boiler house. What remains of the turbine hall is being used as storage for construction equipment (and is inaccessible so sorry, no photos).
The control room still remains, although all of the instruments, control panels and equipment have been removed. The space is now used as part of the Shimizusawa Project, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of Yubari’s industrial heritage.
In starting a discussion about the importance of the power plant to the national identity and advocating for the potential reuse of the remaining facility, in 2011 Shimizusawa Project was able to halt the planned demolition of the remaining space and create a new lease of life that symbolises the sense of respect and pride to the industry that created it.
The unused part of the facility is now opened to the public through guided tours and art exhibitions, the value of it’s heritage has been acknowledged, making a case for its preservation as well as raising awareness of the regions’ history.
Know Before You Go
Shimizusawa is located in Yubari, approximately two hours by car or train from Sapporo, Hokkaido.
If you are interested in visiting Yubari and learning more about what you see here, visit the Shimizusawa Project website www.shimizusawa.com