The stations at Ince, on the Mersey, and Richborough, in Kent, are run by PowerGen, which has been using orimulsion on an experimental basis for three years.
Burning orimulsion, a mixture of bitumen and water imported from Venezuela, causes more sulphur emissions than oil or coal. But it produces lower levels of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and less dust.
PowerGen will have to report to the Pollution Inspectorate on emissions and will have to say by April what it will do to scrub out harmful substances from the gases. It can run the stations without having installed the cleaning equipment until 1998. National Power, PowerGen's larger rival, has also applied for permission to use orimulsion at two plants. But the company is reviewing its plans after being told that it would have to fit flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) - gas scrubbing equipment - to the stations, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds. PowerGen says that it has other clean-up options.
The acceptance of orimulsion will come as a further blow to the coal industry. British Coal already faces a major threat from tighter limits on sulphur emissions, which could cause the closure of many more mines.
Some European Community countries want sulphur emissions to be cut by 90 per cent, compared with the existing plan to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2003, from a 1990 base.
John Baker, chief executive of National Power, said yesterday that a 90 per cent cut could mean that only two coal-fired stations, which are already being fitted with FGD, would remain in production compared with almost 30 at present.Reuse content