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
Rev. 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
Jodo 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