February 13, 2009 / 9:41 AM / 10 years ago

UK and Poland top dirty coal list, closures loom

BRUSSELS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Britain, Poland, Spain, France and Romania top the list of countries that will have to retire coal-fired power stations by 2015 to comply with European Union acid rain laws, European Commission data shows.

The EU adopted laws in 2001 aimed at curbing emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — which harm human health and lead to acidification of lakes and soil — from industrial plants that burn fossil fuels.

The European Commission, executive arm of the EU, estimates that if fully implemented its air quality laws could prevent 13,000 premature deaths a year.

The regulation has met resistance from some EU countries including Britain, which argues it could face a gap in power production with 25 percent of its generating capacity closing over the next decade due either to air quality constraints or nuclear reactors reaching the end of their lives.

The issue is due to be debated when EU environment ministers next meet in Brussels on March 2.

The current rules mean the closure of Britain’s Kingsnorth coal power station in Kent — a facility the owner E.ON EONG.DE, causing ecological outcry, wants replaced with the UK’s first new coal plant for three decades.

EU nations were given the choice of forcing companies to invest in equipment to remove pollutants, or of opting them out of the standards contained in the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) by closing power stations down after 20,000 hours of running time or by 2015.

Seventeen of the EU’s 27 member states have opted out a total of 205 plants, according to data seen by Reuters on Friday.

Britain has opted out 13 plants totalling around 34.3 thermal gigawatts of capacity, the highest level in Europe and around 15 percent of total UK capacity.

Poland, which burns coal for around 95 percent of its power, has opted out 37 plants in a preliminary report, or around 32 percent of capacity, while Spain has opted out 10 percent and France 5 percent.

Romania has opted out the highest number of plants, 41, representing about 22 percent of capacity, but most of them are smaller plants linked to communist-era district heating schemes.

In recent years, the issue of acidifying pollution has been overshadowed on the EU agenda as the bloc negotiated a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the fight against climate change.

But it is back on the agenda this year, and some nations are expected to push for a delay to the deadline for closing plants.

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