To recall, in December 2007 the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) which recasts seven existing Directives. The draft directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC Directive) sets stricter operational conditions, technical requirements and emission limit values for industrial plants. Under the Commission’s proposal about 52,000 industrial plants, in the EU, will be required to meet new minimum emissions standards on several pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and dust. Obviously, businesses are concerned that the Commission proposal requiring stricter pollution standards for industrial installations may force power stations as well as other plants to close down.
After several closed-doors ‘trialogue’ legislative negotiations, last June the Council and European Parliament representatives reached an agreement on new legislation on industrial emissions. Last week, the European Parliament voted on the text at second reading, endorsing the compromise deal. The proposal still has to be formally adopted by the Council.
The ludicrous situation is that the Government cannot guarantee Britain's energy security. The Government has tried to reduce the impact of the Directive on industrial emissions but it cannot veto the proposal. Moreover, it would not be able to change the current EU laws, in fact, it is obliged to apply them otherwise it will be taken again to the ECJ. In fact, under the large combustion plants directive, nine UK’s power stations are set to close in 2015.
Under the IPPC Directive, operators of industrial installations in the EU are required to submit an application to an environmental permit to the competent authorities in the EU Member States. Such permits are based on Best Available Techniques (BATs), which are decide at EU level, and include defined limit values for atmospheric pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and dust. Industrial installations may only operate if the operator holds a permit which is only granted if requirements for the protection of air, water and soil, waste minimisation are met. Under the present directive, the Member States’s competent authorities have some flexibility. They are allowed to take into account technical characteristics of the installation in question as well as its geographical location when granting permits. The Commission proposal requires that BAT reference documents must serve as the reference for establishing permit conditions. Moreover, it would be also required that emission limit values do not exceed the emission levels related with the best available techniques as defined in those BAT reference documents. Under the Commission proposal, Member States would no longer be allowed to concede flexibility to certain installations taking into account their location. Hence, installations would only be able to deviate from the use of BATs under precise conditions. Competent authorities may grant derogations to allow emission limit values to exceed the emission levels associated with the best available techniques as described in the BAT reference documents, to take into account certain specific circumstances. However, they must be based in specific criteria and should not exceed the emission limit values set out for combustion plants, for waste incineration plants and waste co-incineration plants. Under the compromise deal, at the MEPs requested, the member states’ competent authorities may establish less strict emission limit values but “only where an assessment shows that the achievement of emission levels associated with the best available techniques as described in BAT conclusions would lead to disproportionately higher costs compared to the environmental benefits.”
The most controversial issue of the proposal has been the requirements for large combustion plants. The Commission has proposed to bring emissions of existing large combustion plants (including power plants) into line with current Best Available Techniques (BAT) by 2016 whereas several Member States, including the UK, have requested 2020. According to the Government’s initial impact assessment the annual cost of the requirements for large combustion plants will vary between £16.4–16.8 million for the least stringent to £66.8–67.2 million for the most. Lord Hunt, has said to the European Scrutiny Committee if the Council agrees to less stricter requirements the proposal overall cost could be reduced from around £944 million to about £224 million, of which around £214 million would concern the requirements for large combustion plants.
Taking into account the costs and the risks to the security of energy supply, the Council has amended the Commission’s proposal introducing several derogations for combustion plants. T
he Council decided that the new limit values would be applicable to existing LCPs from 2016 however it has agreed on a transition period. Hence, the UK as well as Poland and other central European Member States were able to delay the application of the directive's provisions for large combustion plants until 2020. Under the Council common position Member States may define “'transitional national plan for certain combustion plants by applying decreasing annual ceilings for total emissions from participating plants between 2016 and 2020”, “until 2023, for plants which will operate for a limited time before closure” and “until 2019, for plants which are part of small isolated systems.” Surprisingly, MEPs agreed that Member States may use ‘transitional national plans’ allowing large combustion plants up to July 2020 to comply with stricter limits. Whereas some older plants may not have to meet the targets, if they operate no longer than 17,500 hours and providing they close by the end of 2023, the newer power stations must comply with the 2012 deadline.