HMIP, National Power on collision course over Orimulsion

Electricity generator National Power has ducked a demand from HM Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) to show how its Pembroke power station in south Wales will comply with stringent emission limits for sulphur dioxide when it burns the new bitumen-based fuel Orimulsion. The company now looks certain to have its application to burn the fuel rejected unless HMIP suffers a sudden loss of will.

The dispute has been rumbling away since mid-1991 and now appears to be approaching its climax. As explained in ENDS Report 201 (pp 7-8), both National Power and PowerGen have been exploring the possibility of large-scale burning of Orimulsion, a cheap fuel supplied by BP Bitor. The fuel has a relatively high sulphur content, and the question for HMIP has been whether to insist that flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) or an equivalent technique must be used to abate the resulting SO2 emissions.

In principle the answer appears straightforward. An HMIP guidance note on large combustion plants says unequivocally that any power station which is converted to burn Orimulsion will be treated as a "substantial change" under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. In turn, any process undergoing substantial change must comply immediately with the emission limits set for new plant. These include SO2 limits which can only be met by means of FGD.

However, last year's application by National Power to burn Orimulsion at Pembroke contained no proposals to abate SO2. When the company was served with a notice by HMIP demanding a justification for this approach, it retorted that the commercial viability of the project could not be guaranteed, and "with any requirement to install FGD, the margins would be insufficient to proceed with the project at this time." The application, it added, amounted to a "responsible matching" of the needs of the electricity consumer and the environment.

HMIP tried again with a further notice on 10 March which pointed out that the power station "will be expected to achieve from the outset the emission standards specified for new plant," and asked the company to show how it would do so. National Power promptly replied that it could not understand why any further information was needed.

The matter is to be thrashed out shortly at a meeting of the two parties. But HMIP appears to have little to give unless it is prepared to suffer a comprehensive loss of face. A decision on the application is due by 31 May.

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