Europe Struggles to Control Power Plant Emissions

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - The European Commission has issued a key guidance to member governments of the European Union on achieving cuts in polluting emissions from pre-1987 boilers and power plants under the law governing large combustion plants. The new guidance document details how authorities should draft a national emission reduction plan if they prefer it as an alternative to fixed emission caps for the plants. More countries than originally thought have indicated interest in making use of a national emission reduction plan.

The law known as the 2001 Large Combustion Plants (LCPs) Directive is one of the European Union's most important pieces of anti-pollution legislation. It sets strict limits on emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulates from all large fossil fuel powered combustion plants.

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Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire is Europe's largest coal fired power station. (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
The 2001 LCPs Directive replaced a similar law from 1988, setting fresh emission limits for "new" plants opened since the first directive was passed. The rules were agreed in tandem with a broader directive setting 2010 national emission ceilings for SO2 and NOx plus ammonia and methane.

For the "existing" plants installed pre-1987, member states were given a choice - either to apply the same limits as for "new" plants from 2008, or construct a national emission reduction plan to achieve the same effect.

The advantage of a national plan is that it would allow some existing plants exceeding the limits to continue operating, provided extra cuts could be made at other existing plants.

Strongly advocated by the UK during talks on the LCPs Directive, the national plan option is now being seriously considered by Finland, Spain and Greece.

EU sources say Italy and Ireland are also looking at developing national plans. Other EU member governments may follow before the November 2003 deadline for deciding which route to take. In addition, three accession countries set to join the EU in 2004 - Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic - are likely to use national plans.

The UK, which has more than 130 pre-1987 plants, could now be rethinking its approach. Responses to a government consultation have not yielded a clear consensus for any option. Moreover, the rising price of natural gas may lead to coal fired plants being maintained longer than predicted, a scenario that could even make a national plan more restrictive than individual plant caps.

The UK's proposals for implementing the LCPs Directive will be watched with interest because the country fought bitter battles during the law's negotiation over how plants licensed before July 1, 1987, designated as "existing" plants, should be dealt with.

Fearing that application of new emission limit values to pre-1987 plants could spell mass closures, the UK initially opposed their inclusion altogether. After losing this fight, it instead secured an option for old plants to meet the limits collectively under a "national plan."

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Ferrybridge C Power Station owned by Edison Mission Energy. It generates power with four 500MW coal fired units and two gas turbines. (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
Now the UK appears unsure whether to make use of the national plan clause in the LCPs Directive, and if so, how to do so. The environment ministry's first public proposals on transposing the directive set out options without making a recommendation between them.

One approach to implementing a national plan, it suggests, could be to set up an emissions trading scheme for pre-1987 plants. This option has already been examined in detail by the Anglo-Welsh Environment Agency. The ministry also shows how each operating pre-1987 plant would have to contribute to meeting a collective emissions goal.

The directive also permits a third option for the oldest plants. Under this, EU member governments could notify by mid-2004 an intention to close facilities within 20,000 operating hours starting January 1, 2008. These plants would not be covered by the law's emission limits.

The country's energy regulator, the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets, Ofgem, continues to favor a national plan, as does the environment agency, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, which has developed an emissions trading scheme to implement it.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}