Fossil-fuel power stations will have until June 2020 to comply with the next phase of EU pollution rules, under the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) passed by the European Parliament yesterday.
The new regulations will supersede the existing Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) in 2016, cutting even further the amount of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulates that energy generators may expel.
After 2016, energy companies will have to meet the new cap by installing equipment to clean up emissions. Alternatively, power stations can opt out, closing down by the end of 2023 or after 17,500 hours, whichever is the sooner.
MEPs have also agreed a third compromise, under which emitters can use so-called "transitional national plans", allowing them greater flexibility up until mid-2020 to meet the full cap on emissions. Holger Krahmer, the rapporteur who has steered the legislation through the European Parliament, yesterday commended the compromise as offering "more clarity" and "a better chance of a level playing field across Europe". But he slammed the extra margin built into the directive as "unfair" to countries such as his native Germany.
"It is a European tragedy that a number of outdated coal-fired power plants will be allowed to pollute for another decade," he said. "This is also grossly unfair on the member states who took early action to meet the requirements."
But British energy companies claim the extra flexibility is crucial to ensure security of supply. Some 15 per cent of the UK's generating capacity is already scheduled to close by 2016. Were the new IED to come into force without the 2020 "derogation" option, as much as a quarter of it could be forced to close.
"The IED is a reasonable compromise," said Nigel Burdett, the head of environment at Drax – Europe's largest coal-fired power station. "The plan gives energy companies the ability to phase out plant over a reasonable period. Without these derogations, most plant would close in 2016 and that would be quite difficult for the UK to manage. But they will now close over a period to 2023 which will enable a security-of-supply crisis to be ameliorated."