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New EU emission rules - the death knell for coal-fired power plants?
According to the EU rules agreed on Monday (July 31), power plants must reduce their pollutant emissions. Estimated costs for the necessary changes - over 15 billion euros. Environmental associations see the next logical step as the extensive closure of the biggest polluters - coal-fired power plants.
In future, Europe's power plants will have to comply with stricter limit values for pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, mercury and soot particles. This is provided for by the new, so-called BREF directive, which was approved by the member states in April 2017 and formally agreed by the College of Commissioners on Monday.
More than 3,000 large combustion plants in the EU must comply with the new rules by 2021, according to which power plants are then allowed to emit a maximum of 175 milligrams of nitrogen oxide per cubic meter. Current estimates assume that 82 percent of the European coal industry has not yet been able to comply with the new EU limit values.
That could cost the sector dearly. According to a recent study commissioned by the European Climate Foundation (ECF), these massive expenditures and the uncertain situation of coal as an energy source could mean that those coal-fired power plants, which pollute the environment most, will have no choice but to shut down.
Christian Schaible, Policy Manager at the European Environment Bureau (EEB) and member of the working group that helped develop the revised standards, said that “not all power plants have the will, the funding or even access to the technical equipment necessary to reduce of pollutant emissions is required. Investing in systems that already need support to meet the commitments on climate protection simply makes no sense. "
For power plants that undertake to decommission, Schaible could imagine "subject to strict conditions and in exchange for reduced operation, short-term exception rules".
In fact, the authorities of the EU member states will probably allow exceptions in the event that the costs are disproportionate to the benefits of environmental protection, as long as the safety standards are still observed.
Dave Jones, of the UK non-profit Sandbag’s Energy Analyst, expressed his hope that "governments are motivated to take the pollution seriously, which means that they go beyond the minimum requirements". That had to be done as soon as possible instead of waiting for the 2021 deadline.
Another study has already revealed the massive healthcare costs the G20 countries face from poor air quality. The study found that in the future billions in fossil fuel subsidies will mean trillions in spending on health care.
Air pollution can cause a variety of diseases, including lung disease and respiratory infections. Environmentalists assume that the new rules could save up to 20,000 lives a year.
In February 2017, the European Commission warned that EU air quality laws were being violated in 23 of the 28 member states and in more than 130 cities. ; Spokeswoman Enrico Brivio, press spokesman for the EU Commission, warned in April that “air pollution is one of the most common environmental causes of premature death in the EU”.
However, the new rules are not welcomed by all EU countries. Coal-dependent countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, Germany and the Czech Republic voted in the industry committee against the new limit values.
At the time, Berlin received heavy criticism for joining a so-called “toxic bloc” of the Eastern European countries. And that, despite its much-vaunted energy transition and the obligation to decarbonise and to achieve the goals of the Paris climate protection agreement. The Federal Environment Ministry had argued against the new limit values because it considered them “technically not feasible”.
Air quality standards have proven to be tough school for member states over the past two years. The Commission has brought an action against twelve member states because they have not introduced nitrogen dioxide limit values.
New study: clean air makes you happy
Nitrogen dioxide in the air has similar effects on human wellbeing as termination, separation or even the death of a partner, emphasize researchers.
The Commission has now announced that it will examine the permits for combustion plants in accordance with an implementing act on the basis of the "Best Available Techniques" (BAT) concept adopted by the OSPAR Commission,
This review of the permits must now take place over the next four years, before the 2021 deadline.
The EU emissions directive came into force in 2011, but its EU-wide emission limits for large combustion plants were criticized as being too weak and allowed too many coal-fired power plants to exceed the standards. Large combustion plants contribute almost 50% to sulfur dioxide emissions and also make up a large part of the other pollutants.
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