British government schemes to undermine European emissions law

By David Gow
Friday 23 January 2009 by anik

UK officials want to weaken European proposed laws that would limit the UK’s emissions – but which they say will boost bills and cut supplies

The UK government is lobbying to water down proposed EU legislation to impose tough new emission limits on power plants in order to guarantee Britain’s energy security and keep down electricity prices.

Whitehall is warning, according a briefing document leaked to green campaigners and seen by the Guardian, that electricity prices would increase by 20% if the proposed legislation isn’t changed. It is also concerned that the new rules would threaten the security of the UK’s electricity supply.

The proposed European directive would pose a serious threat to the construction of the Kingsnorth power station in Kent – the UK’s first new coal plant for three decades. Campaigners accuse ministers of "planning for failure" by seeking to expand coal generation capacity and keep "dirty" coal stations open when they should instead focus on hitting renewable energy and efficiency targets. Coming just days after the decision to expand Heathrow by adding a third runway, they see it as the latest example of the government not living up to its rhetoric on climate change (see panel).

Tomorrow the environment committee of the European Parliament will vote on more than 500 amendments tabled to the proposed new legislation – the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) directive.

The proposed IPPC directive incorporates changes to current legislation such as the large combustion plant legislation (LCPD) and lays out tighter limits, for example on sulphur dioxide emissions.

The 4-page leaked Whitehall paper is a briefing note prepared for MEPs. It says that the LCPD directive "raises potentially serious issues about security of electricity supply" and could even damage "moves to low-carbon electricity generation".

Current EU laws allow power stations that are not fitted with equipment to remove sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide to operate for a limited period each day, but only until 2015. This affects around a seventh (10.5GW) of Britain’s electricity generation capacity. Whitehall says that up to a further 8GW of generating capacity may close if the proposed tougher rules in the IPPC directive are applied – meaning that in 2015 around a quarter of capacity would shut at the same time. According to the document this would reduce the margin for error at times of high power demand.

"With projected new investments, electricity capacity margins (spare capacity to meet exceptionally cold winters or temporary plant shutdowns) are projected to fall from around 10% to around 7% from the beginning of 2016 and remain depressed for some three years after," the paper says.

It adds: "That period of reduced security margin will be reflected in electricity price increases of some 20% above those which are predicted in the absence of the proposed [Large Combustion Plant] provisions."

The paper sounds a drastic warning that it may prove impossible to build and operate replacement plant by the end of 2015, saying this would "exacerbate the risks and shortfalls" outlined.

"Moreover, since investment decisions and design need to be completed within the next two years to meet a 2016 deadline, such plant is therefore almost certain to be built using currently commercialised technologies which, of course, do not currently include carbon capture and storage (CCS)," says the document, which is entitled "UK Concerns on the Proposed Recast Industrial Emissions (IPPC) Directives Provisions Concerning Large Combustion Plants.

The government is calling for greater flexibility to be introduced into the proposed IPPC directive, which covers some 500 power plants across Europe, so that UK electricity and gas supplies are not threatened. It has won some backing from other EU countries which would like the new law to take effect from 2020.

Robin Oakley, head of the climate campaign for Greenpeace, said: "Independent research from Europe’s leading energy experts, Poyry, shows that if the government hits its existing renewables and efficiency targets there is absolutely no need to keep dirty coal stations open or to build new ones like E.ON’s proposal for Kingsnorth. Britain should be leading Europe’s efforts to clean up the power sector, not attempting to weaken them."

Chris Littlecott, senior policy adviser at the Green Alliance thinktank, said: "We are concerned that the EU package does not do enough, particularly on coal. Leaving everything up to the emissions trading scheme (ETS) when the price of carbon is dropping and not pushing through CCS is not good enough."

MEPs have also been angered by the decision of the environment committee chair Miroslav Ouzky to refuse amendments allowing CO2 emissions performance standards for combustion plants similar to those that exist in California. He insists these lie outside the proposed directive and should be covered by the EU’s climate change package adopted at last month’s summit.

Read the rest of the article on the guardian

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