Emissions from approximately 2,900 large combustion plants in the EU, including coal-fired power stations as well as peat, oil and gas power plants, are now likely to be subject to stricter environmental performance standards. These updated standards ("Best Available Techniques Conclusions for Large Combustion Plants" – BREF LCP), based on a decision adopted by the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) Article 75 Committee on 28 April 2017, are expected to be formally adopted by the European Commission as a Commission Implementing Decision. The negotiations leading up to the Committee's decision have been covered by a previous blog post on 25 April 2017.

Stricter EU-wide standards will have to be met by 2021 for emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), tiny particulate matter (PM) and mercury (Hg). These standards include, inter alia, yearly average emission levels (BAT-AELs) for NOx emissions to air from the combustion of coal and/or lignite of 175 mg/Nm³ for existing combustion plants with a total rated thermal input of more than 300 MW, which have been criticised by industry groups as too low. While several countries heavily reliant on coal (including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland) were opposed to the stricter standards and campaigned to weaken the draft standards of the BREF LCP, the Committee adopted the BREF LCP by majority decision. The BREF LCP is not self-executing but will have to be transposed into national law by the Member States, allowing for some limited discretion regarding the details of such implementation.

As a result of the stricter standards, existing plants (e.g., German lignite-fired power plants) may also require costly technical updates in order to reduce their emissions, or cease operations entirely. However, such developments must be considered in the context of the EU's broader policy of transitioning to a low carbon economy. The new standards will further strengthen the role of cleaner technologies, such as renewable energy.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.