European Court of Justice NOx ruling seen as a test of UK attitude prior to leaving EU
The European Court of Justice has ruled that RWE’s coal-fired Aberthaw Power Station in southern Wales must reduce its emissions if it is stay open past 2020. While the ruling has been seen as a test of the UK’s position on EC rulings in the wake of Brexit, the UK has already taken an orderly approach to the judgement, a spokesperson saying “We’re still a member of the EU…and we will remain bound by EU law until the withdrawal agreement comes into force,” while the Welsh government, responsible for enforcing the judgement, has also said it would comply with it. Accepting the need for compliance may be an academic question, however, as the UK is likely to have completed its withdrawal from the EU by 2020. At the heart of the case has been an issue over NOx emissions, the UK government having granted a permit for 1,200 mg of NOx per normal cubic metre of emissions, permissible under EU laws when coals of less than 10% volatile matter are being fired. The UK’s grant was on the basis that the plant was designed to fire Welsh coal, which has such a quality, and which is in practice (according to RWE) 60% of the fuel fired at Aberthaw. But an EU investigation found that in fact on only seven occasions between 2008 and 2011 had the fuel had a volatile matter below 10%, and that the higher permit of 1,200 mg is permissible when a plant fires coal of less than 10% volatile matter exclusively. RWE has said it is disappointed with the ruling, saying “Compliance with this ruling, under continuing difficult market conditions for coal generation, will have a wider cost. It will mean our ability to use large amounts of Welsh coal is reduced somewhat earlier than might otherwise have been necessary.”
Canada to impose carbon price on provinces without a sufficient carbon regulatory system
Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has announced that any of the nation’s 10 provinces which does not institute an adequate carbon emissions regulatory system will have a carbon price imposed upon it by the federal government. The announcement follows a compromise deal made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the provinces in March, in which it was agreed the provinces would have the opportunity to regulate themselves in some way. The four largest provinces – British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec – all have some form of regulatory system already in place, and of the other provinces, the most notable not to have one is Saskatchewan, which is a major energy producer. Canada’s 2030 target for carbon emissions is 524 Mt of CO2 equivalent emissions (per year), and in September 2015 was emitting around 735 Mt, meaning that to meet the target, the country will need to reduce emissions by 40% in the next 14 years.
China cancels 15 ‘illegal’ coal-fired power plant projects
China has cancelled 15 coal-fired power plant projects, according to Reuters. The projects were spread across the country, including in the provinces of Shanxi, Shandong and Guangdong, the although the reasons are somewhat obscure, it appears as though the projects were ruled illegal on some basis. China’s National Energy Administration has said it will crack down on any such illegal coal-fired power plant projects, including through suspending bank loans and/or banning the plants from the power grid.
Eurostat releases EU energy sector infographic set
Eurostat has released a good series of infographics on energy consumption within the EU, with statistics on energy sources and imports, power generation types, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency for each member state. Amongst other statistics are that Latvia has the highest proportion of renewable energy use (edging out Sweden), that its neighbour Estonia fires the highest proportion of solid fuel, and that the Netherlands fires gas for the highest proportion of its energy than any other EU country. The site is worth spending some time browsing.
Internet security expert warns that “someone is learning how to take down the internet”
A blog post by one of the world’s experts on internet security has provided ample food for thought for the power generation industry. Bruce Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, wrote that he has had access to information that shows that an organisation has been systematically “probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the internet.” This is done by distributed denial of service attacks of precise and increasing levels designed to find the exact point at which a company’s defences fail. The scale of the attacks suggests to Mr Schneier that the attacks (on US companies) are being facilitated somehow by a state power, his first guesses being China or Russia. The danger to the power generation industry would be that during a cyber war, the internet in a country could be ‘taken down’, and critical infrastructure relying on the internet could thus also be taken out of operation. The prospect adds to the existing digital threats of hacking and viruses.
Fire at Puerto Rican plant plunges island into blackout for two days
A very different issue has resulted in a blackout for the whole of Puerto Rico lasting two days. The failure of two 230 kV transmission lines at the 900 MW Aguirre diesel oil-fired power plant, which generates 30% of the island’s electricity, led to a fire that took the plant out of operation, and also sparked more than a dozen fires at other locations around the country. The Electric Power Authority, which runs the country’s power infrastructure, including the plant, is currently US$9 billion (€8 billion) in debt, a fact that has raised suggestions that equipment had not been properly maintained, but the Puerto Rican governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who appointed an entirely new board to the Authority in 2013, stated that appropriate maintenance had been carried out.
Bosnian plant is first privately-owned power station in the Balkans
The first privately-owned power station in the Balkans has been opened, a 300 MW, coal-fired plant in Stanari, northern Bosnia. The plant is owned by Serbian-run but British-based Energy Financing Team, which started organising the plant in 2013, employing China’s Dongfang Electric Corp to build it, and finding finance through the China Development Bank to the tune of €350 million (US$391 million). Reuters suggests that Western investors were reluctant to take part in the project because it was to be coal-fired (the project included the upgrade of a nearby coal mine), allowing China to step in. The new plant will help Bosnia retain its status as one of the few Balkans countries which exports power.
First new gas-fired plant in three years opens in the UK
Another new plant to recently come online is the 880 MW, gas-fired Carrington plant, located near Manchester, UK. Irish utility ESB is the plant’s owner, and has already secured a contract for 2019/20 as a backup supplier of electricity to the grid, under the UK government’s capacity market scheme. It is the first new gas-fired plant to be built in the UK for three years, but it is unlikely that it will be as long for the next to open, with Britain already having only marginal excess capacity and needing to replace generation capacity from ten nuclear power plants due to close by 2030 and many of its coal-fired power plants, which may be closed by 2025.