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Britain seeks to curb pollution by small-scale power plants

Smoke billows from a chimney in the early morning hours during a smoggy day near Ramsgate, April 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain plans to curb health damaging air pollution with emissions standards for small-scale power plants used to generate back-up electricity at short notice and to stem the rising use of diesel generators.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) suggests plants producing 1-50 megawatts (MW) of electricity should be subject to new rules to cut emissions of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide.

“The combined impact of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM) pollution in the UK is estimated to lead to the equivalent of approximately 50,000 premature deaths per year, at a cost of around 30 pounds billion per year,” DEFRA said as it launched the consultation this week.

The controls will apply to new plants from December 2018, while existing plants must comply with requirements from 2024 or 2029, depending largely on size, DEFRA said.

The government is under pressure from green groups to apply an emissions standard to prevent heavily polluting diesel plants from securing lucrative contracts in its capacity market, where they are paid to make available back-up electricity at short notice.

Britain began these capacity auctions in 2014 looking to head off future winter power shortages as coal plants close and low power prices dissuade investors from building new ones.

Around 4 gigawatts of diesel capacity had qualified to participate in the upcoming capacity auction, to be held in December, which analysts at green lobby group Sandbag estimate could be worth around 800 million pounds over the 15 year life span of the contracts.

The consultation will be open until Feb. 8, DEFRA said.

Reporting by Susanna Twidale and Peter Hobson; Editing by Alexander Smith