British power plants pollute Dutch rural areas

Three big British power plants contribute more to the depostion of sulphur, nitrogen oxides and fine particles in rural Holland than 11 domestic plants combined.

Three large British power plants contribute more to nitrogen and acid deposition and particulate matter (PM2.5) levels in most rural areas of the Netherlands than eleven large Dutch power plants combined, according to the findings of a recent study.

At the request of the Netherlands Society for Nature and Environment (Stichting Natuur en Milieu, SNM), the Dutch institute TNO has calculated to what extent three large UK power plants contribute to acidification and eutrophication in nature reserves and to levels of fine particles in rural areas in the Netherlands. Their contribution is compared to the collective contribution of eleven large Dutch power plants, which produce half of the electricity used in the Netherlands.

The contribution of the Drax power plant (located in Selby, Yorkshire) alone is about 50 per cent compared to the eleven Dutch power plants combined. This also holds true for Kingsnorth in Kent in the south-east of England. The third power plant, Aberthaw (which is situated further away, near Cardiff in Wales) contributes less – but still substantially – to PM concentrations and deposition.

  SO2 NOx PM10 PM2.5 NH3 VOCs CO
11 Dutch power plants combined              4,900 26,800 170 130 54 390 6,300
Drax 22,600 61,400 1,420 730 5 510 5,200
Kingsnorth 31,300 21,700 720 370 3 260 2,600
Aberthaw 28,300 25,900 540 280 2 190 2,000

Table: Estimated emissions of air pollutants in 2005 (tonnes).

Despite their large distance from the Netherlands, the three UK power plants jointly contribute more to PM concentrations and depositions in most of the rural areas of the Netherlands than the eleven large Dutch power stations combined. In the northern half of the country depositions from the three UK plants in fact equate to almost twice the contribution of the eleven Dutch plants.

In contrast to the Dutch power plants, these UK power plants do not apply the best available techniques (BAT) for reducing emissions of air pollutants. The study shows that this not only has a negative effect on the air quality in the UK itself, but also in the neighbouring Netherlands. It is concluded that applying BAT to these plants would be an effective way of reducing pollution levels in the Netherlands.
SNM therefore stresses the need for EU legislation that puts an end to the unjustified differences in permitting practices in the various EU countries, and states that the possibilities to derogate from strict application of BAT should be as restricted as possible.

Sijas Akkerman from SNM stated: “The derogations from the BAT approach in the UK not only have a detrimental effect on the environment, but also harm and distort the level playing field across the EU – the burden to clean up unnecessary pollution produced in the UK is shifted to the Dutch industry”.

In July the European Parliament will vote on the amendments in a second reading of the new Industrial Emissions Directive. Environmental groups are demanding that loopholes, such as the “transitional national plan” and “limited life time derogation” should be removed from the directive, since they will allow the above UK power plants, and many other large polluters, to continue avoiding the implementation of BAT.

Christer Ågren

Note: The report “Contribution of power plant emissions in the UK and the Netherlands to air quality and depositions in the Netherlands” can be downloaded from:

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