To the general public, power stations are the most obvious cause of industrial air pollution. Coal was the main source for generating electricity in the UK until the late 1980s. Coal-fired power stations emitted a substantial amount of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, as well as sulphur dioxide, an acid gas which affects human health and vegetation.
Power plant emissions have far-reaching effects and can cause long-range air pollution. The European Union has passed the Large Combustion Plants Directive 2001/80/EC (the 'LCPD') and the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU to reduce the effect of these pollutants throughout Europe.
These European controls on power plants have effect in the UK through the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (in particular Schedule 15), the Large Combustion Plants (Scotland) Regulations 2002 and the Large Combustion Plants Regulations (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2003.
All combustion plants built after 1987 have to comply with LPCD emissions limits. Old power plants in operation before 1987 can either meet the LPCD limits by participating in the National Emission Reduction Plan (NERP) or operate for a limited time.
NERP was introduced into the UK through the Large Combustion Plants (National Emissions Reduction Plan) Regulations 2007. It allows all existing large combustion plants to trade their annual allowances for sulphue dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dust (particulates) with other large combustion plants within the scheme. The scheme came into force in January 1, 2008.
Emissions from power plants have been reduced following the use of cleaner systems of power generation including the use of flue gas desulphurisation and low sulphur fuels. The Government’s White Paper of 2011, 'Planning our electric future', set out plans for gradually decarbonising emissions from the power sector through encouraging more sustainable and cleaner power generation, including renewables such as wind and tidal energy. These changes are needed in order to meet the 15 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 set under the Renewable Energy Directive, and the 80 per cent carbon reduction target by 2050 set in the Climate Change Act 2008. The reforms have been implemented through the Energy Act 2013, and other measures.