Planned Balkan coal plants may breach EU pollution limits

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A new wave of coal plants in aspirant EU member states, authorised by the Energy Community, risk breaching EU pollution limits if they proceed according to their stated plans, an EU law firm says.

Commitments made under the Energy Community treaty in October 2013 by Moldova, Ukraine and assorted Western Balkan nations oblige them to comply with Chapter III of the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive by 1 January 2018.

But at least five new lignite power plants – in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro – could violate the directive before this date, according to analysis by the Frank Bold legal consultancy.

“What this means in practice is that there is a high risk of unforeseen additional costs to the investors in these plants, as well as consumers of electricity, as developers may have to scramble to make last minute technological adaptations to ensure compliance with the IED as we get closer to 2018,” said Kristína Šabová, a lawyer for Frank Bold.

Governments in the region had to understand that it would be impossible to avoid the directive’s requirements for new plants after 2018, she added.    

Potential health and environmental damage from the proposed coal builds has already spurred environmental protests in Ukraine, where poor regulatory standards for hazardous pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) are in place.

These pollutants are responsible for 18,200 premature deaths in Europe ever year, and 8,500 new cases of chronic bronchitis, according to the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a green NGO.

EFT‘s planned Stanari lignite power plant in Bosnia and Herzegovina – which is currently under construction – has been awarded an environmental permit allowing it to emit 2-3 times more SO2, NOx and dust than the currently binding legislation adopted by the Energy Community.

The Energy Community secretariat is currently considering an official complaint about Stanari that was submitted by the Banja-Luka-based Center for Environment in January.

The plants most likely to breach the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive are: Tuzla 7, Stanari and Banovici in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pljevlja II in Montenegro, and Kolubara B in Serbia.

Pippa Gallop of the CEE Bankwatch Network said that if such projects were to go ahead – as other European countries tried to kick the coal habit – compliance with the Industrial Emissions Directive was “the legal minimum condition” that had to be applied.

“Balkan authorities had better be advised that countries wanting to join the EU can expect further environmental and climate legislation changes which will almost certainly affect their coal investment,” she said. “In this region too, governments and investors need to understand that building new coal plants is no longer a good investment option, considering the climate and health costs and the high failure rate of such projects.”

The European Environment Agency (EEA) says the following are leading pollutants that affect the health of humans and ecosystems:

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOX): Emitted from fuel combustion, including power plants and vehicles. Of the chemical groups that comprise NOX, NO2 has the most adverse effects on health.
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2): Emitted when fuels containing sulphur. Like NOX, SO2 contributes to acid rain and the formation of particulate matter.
  • Ammonia (NH3): Like NOX and SO2, ammonia pollutes ecosystems. Some 94% of NH3 emissions in Europe come from agriculture.
  • Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs): Emitted from industry, road transport and dry-cleaning.
  • Particulate matter (PM): Smoke, dirt and dust form coarse particles known as PM10, and metals and toxic exhaust from smelting, vehicle exhaust, power plants and refuse burning forming fine particles are called PM2.5.
  • Organic micro-pollutants: Benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and dioxins and furans. Emitted by the combustion of fuels and wastes, and from industrial processes.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2): Caused by the combustion of fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas and biomass used in industrial, domestic and transport purposes. It is the most significant greenhouse gas influencing climate change.

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  • European Energy Community: Ukraine

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