UK faces court action over Wales coal plant emissions

The UK is being referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) over its failure to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from the coal-fired Aberthaw Power Station in Wales.

The power station has failed to meet NOx emissions limits set out in the EU Large Combustion Plants Directive (2001/80/EC), with which Member States originally had until January 1 2008 to comply. The Directive is designed to reduce emissions of acidifying pollutants, particles and ozone precursors from such facilities.

Operated by energy firm RWE npower but regulated by the UK government, the plant currently operates under a permit which sets a NOx emission limit of 1,200 ugm3 (microgrammes per cubic metre) each year.

Under the EU Directive, however, large combustion power plants must meet a NOx emission limit of 500 ugm3.

And, as a result of Aberthaw Power Plant’s failure to comply with the Directive, the European Commission announced last week (March 26) that it is now seeking court action against the UK government.

This follows concerns over the power plant’s emissions which were first raised by the Commission in a letter of formal notice to the UK in June 2013, followed by a reasoned opinion in October 2014.

A spokesperson for the Commission said: “The Commission takes note that the UK has been working constructively on this issue, with the aim of finding a solution. In this context, the Commission welcomes more recent indications from the UK authorities that investments will be made to upgrade the plant, but at present the plant continues to operate under a permit which allows it to emit high levels of the toxic gas NOx. The Commission is therefore referring this case to Court.”

A government spokesman said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades – we have invested £2 billion since 2011 to continue this.

“We are tackling emissions from industrial sources by setting stringent limits for industrial installations, including coal power stations – Aberthaw Power Station is also investing to meet future emission limits set by the EU. It would be inappropriate to comment on this case further while infraction proceedings are underway.”

Last month, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) came under fire from campaign group Greenpeace, which claimed that the UK was allowing proposed new pollution limits for the Industrial Emission Directive to be weakened by industry lobby groups (see airqualitynews.com story).

Plans are also currently being drawn up for a Medium Combustion Plant Directive as part of the Commission’s Clean Air Package of policy proposals. The legislation would affect plants between 1 and 50MW in size, which are currently unregulated over emissions, and environmental groups last month urged the EU to introduce “ambitious” limits in the Directive (see airqualitynews.com story).